Freebies Vs Free Grains

Photo: Reuters

The following article is written by Tony Kurien, a student activist from TISS, Mumbai. The article focusses on the disparity that exists in India today at many levels and the scant regard shown by the government to these concerns, which is solely focused on achieving its target growth rates.


If sovereignty is the sole monopoly of the state then we are at a stage to conclude that Indian state is a discriminating monopoly. It is using its power as a state in favour of a few and against the
majority, thus discriminating between various classes of its population. This trend is evident for the last two decades and particularly explicit in the last few years.

Far from a passive acceptance of this seemingly pre-ordained fate, India is witnessing enormous struggle from its inner forests to urban slums. The Indian state has responded either by trying to wipe out these discontents or paying lip services respectively. What calls for our attention is because unequal economic growth had made many of them voiceless.

One of the evidences of this comes from Indian government response to providing basic food for its hungry poor. Indian government prefers to let the grains rot rather than distributing it to poor. India spends much on freebies (subsidies) to the private sector but finds it difficult to ensure that all its citizens go to bed without empty stomachs. As on January 1st 2010, 10,688 lakh tonnes of food grains were found to have been wasted in the depots of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), enough to feed over six lakh people for over 10 years. The storage losses of food grains in 2009-10 amounted to Rs 228.39 crore and transit losses another Rs 182.46 crore.

Yet Indian government thinks it is better to export these grains and earn money rather than distributing food for all as a better economic and social investment. It is highly unlikely whether the proposed food security bill will address any of these concerns.

One of the other cases of the strong biases in the Indian growth story is in its response to the agrarian crisis in India. Rural India has been completely deprived of access to subsidized loans and other incentives to alleviate this distress. They are instead suggesting the introduction of private banks to solve this problem. The question is how will private banks in any way defer from the usurious moneylenders?

India’s obsession with GDP had made other indicators of human development not relevant. In one of the studies, authored by Sabina Alkire and James Foster, which explains that as compared with 410 million multi-dimensionally poor people living in 26 of the poorest African countries there are as many as 421 million in just eight of the poorer Indian states. None of these issues find any space in the Indian media.

Schemes like the rural job guarantee schemes such as MNREGA (fromerly NREGS) to alleviate the distress is nothing more than a lip service and is seriously flawed in addressing any of the basic concerns of rural India. While active state intervention could have ameliorated the situation to some extent, the problem is Indian ruling class have no interest in going in that direction as this goes against the fundamentals of free market policies. The question really is: How could India claim to be a fast growing economy in a land of such disparity, with islands of prosperity amidst a sea of poverty?

Tony Kurien