13 January 2021

'Natok Kora Baad De, Bhukha Pete Bhat De'

  Stop Gimmicks, Give Us Our Right to Food

The Right to Food and Work Network-West Bengal 

(RTFWN- WB) is amazed by the hypocrisy of the 'Ek Muthi Chawal' that the BJP has launched on 9.1.2021, with their President Shri Nadda begging for a fistful of rice from farmer households. News reports say that the rice will ultimately be used to start community kitchens to feed the hungry. Shri Nadda is the president of a party that controls the Central Government and that is sitting on 512.94 lakh metric tonnes of food grains. With Kharif procurements still going on we can only expect this to rise even further in the next few days. Does he or his party really need to collect fistfuls of rice to feed the people of Bengal or, for that matter, the entire country? All his party has to do is to extend the free rations programme that was started under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) during the lockdown and that was abruptly stopped after November 2020.

People waiting to collect ration from a Fair Price Shop during the nationwide lockdown in West Bengal. Source: News India Express 

Under this program, each cardholder under NFSA, amounting to 60189384 persons or 67% of West Bengal’s population was receiving 5 kgs of free food grains per month and later 1 kg of pulses per family per month. The plight of people has remained dismal so, far after the lock down and the down turn in the economy, so one cannot fathom the reason for the Central Government’s discontinuation of free rations. The Hunger Watch Study whose interim results were published on the eve of International Human Rights Day on 9th December 2020 show people all over the country are suffering from severe shortage of food. In West Bengal, where the RTFWN- WB conducted a study amongst 2906 families from 20 districts of the state in October and November, the situation, even when free food grains were available under PMGKAY, was grim.

Compared to the pre-lock down period, the percentage of families who had to miss meals had doubled. 18.74% reported going to bed hungry in the last 30 days while 45% families had to borrow money to buy food. 60-70 % of the respondents reported decreased consumption of cereals, pulses and vegetables, while 80.3% reported a decrease in consumption of eggs, meat and fish. 26% expected the situation to deteriorate even further in the next six months. It would therefore be good if Shri Nadda would stop his charade of begging for rice to feed the hungry. If he is interested in removing hunger and not just in getting votes, he should get his Prime Minister to release the mountains of food grains that are lying in the godowns to feed the hungry. An additional reason given for this program is that the BJP intends to meet farmers and explain their new farm laws to them. This is another farce- why not talk first to the farmers who are sitting at your doorstep in Delhi? A government or party that wants to show that it cares for and listens to farmers would do well to negotiate first with those freezing in Delhi’s cold. It would do well to also look at the MSPs it declares for paddy- most farmers find them unprofitable in West Bengal and prefer open market sale to selling at the measly rates declared by the Central Government.

In this season of gimmicks, we also have the Duare Sarkar program of the ruling TMC in West Bengal. The Government suddenly has come to our doorsteps just before the elections, while it has been at best ignoring us, and at worst stealing from us for most part of the two terms that the TMC has been in power. Not only that, the State Government has made light of redressal mechanisms that exist in the laws – the Food Commission under the National Food Security Act is still unformed despite 7 years of the Act; the Information Commission under the Right Information Act is practically non-functional3 ; the Employment Guarantee Council under the NREGA exists in name only; district level Grievance Redressal Officers under the National Food Security Act are unheard of; despite fixed times for dealing with complaints and providing entitlements and services under various laws, delay and obfuscation are the responses to people who go to the door step of the Government. Our appeal to political parties in the run up to elections is- stop the gimmicks; instead, listen to the people’s problems and come up with structural and permanent solutions. For starters restart the PMGKAY for a minimum of another six months. 



https://fci.gov.in/stocks.php?view=46 2 https://wbpds.wb.gov.in/RCCount_District.aspx 2

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