H K Dua’s speech in the Rajya Sabha on September 2, 2013 on the National Food Security Bill

Food is not a favour  to the people

It is their right

 By H K Dua

H K Dua ( Nominated)  Thank you Mr Vice-Chairman, for giving me  an opportunity to speak on this very important Bill.

Sir, there is an unwritten consensus among all the political parties, despite the current mood of cynicism that has spread across the country, that we can be a major economic, political and nuclear power of the 21st century. We have the world’s largest skilled manpower, a major source of our strength.  We have one of the world’s largest Armies, Air Forces and Navies.  We are one of the world’s larger missile powers.  In a few years’ time, an Indian will be landing on the Moon. Possibly, we will be able to send a Mission to the Mars in the near future.

But, Sir, the reality on the ground is not as happy and hopeful as it seems. A chunk of our population doesn’t get a nutritious meal per day.  If  a majority of the children who are malnourished in the world are Indians, then, there is something wrong with our priorities.

Sixty-five years after freedom, we are now in a position to fill that gap between promise and achievement.  It was not possible soon after Independence when we were going round the world with a begging bowl, asking for PL-480 foodgrains, and we had to pay a heavy price for it – in our policies and programmes.  There is no free lunch anywhere, as you know.

Now, we produce enough foodgrains of our own.  We are exporting it also.  But it is not reaching all the people.  Why? That is because the people do not have the purchasing power to buy all what we grow, or they need.  That is why there is malnutrition.  There are no famines in the country, but people in Vidarbha do commit suicides.  It happened in Andhra Pradesh also. It happened in a prosperous State like the Punjab where, some years ago, there were hunger suicides, not a large scale, but there were six farmers who  died.

But there is a worry. Even if famine has been eradicated from India and we have enough buffer stock to take care of a drought or two, malnutrition is very  widespread. It is so widespread that it cannot be the base of building a major power of the 21st century.  You can be a power; but on hungry stomach, you cannot be a major power of the 21st century. This Bill tries to fill gap between promises and performance.

There are 70 million tonnes of grains in our warehouses, or, lying in the open on plinth.  A chunk of it is eaten by rats. Rats don’t commit suicides in Vidarbha; they are fairly well-fed, or, elsewhere where the pockets of food shortages exist.   It is men who do.  Nowhere rats are suffering from malnutrition. It is people who do, it is children who suffer from malnutrition.  Now, a chunk of these 70 million tonnes of foodgrains is eaten away by rats or the  vagaries of weather. Can’t we distribute it to the people who need it, to those people who cannot afford to buy these.

This Bill provides them cheap grain at a vast scale.  That is why it is of historic importance.  I am sure the House will support it unanimously.  There have been reservations  from different parties about some problems with the Bill. I am sure, these can be addressed. If not now, as we go along, if some glitches appear  these can be rectified later.

This programme is of a massive scale. I think we should all support it.  Criticism is coming from the middle class outside.  Criticism is coming from the ’‘Shining India’, which has been a gainer of growth.  The ‘Shining India’ wants subsidies for petrol, it wants cheap fares for air travel, it would like to go to posh restaurants and order lobsters and discuss obesity.

The people who belong to the ‘Shining India’ don’t want to share a handful of grain with the poor and under-nourished children. They just don’t want to share it.

I read in  newspapers, and most of you people would have read that kitty parties are being held by chartering an aircraft for rich ladies who go to Hong Kong or Bangkok or Paris. The kitty parties are being held there at tremendous costs, and when they come back, they discuss why this Bill is being brought, why cheap grain is being distributed to the other India; and when the country doesn’t have enough resources. Sir, ‘Shining India, frankly speaking, is a bit selfish India.

When the voting time comes, the ‘Shining India’ people don’t turn up for voting. The voting percentages  are the lowest  in prosperous areas, as it has been experienced in posh areas of Mumbai, or Delhi. They have the least percentages. Who have really the stake in democracy? Ultimately, the poor of the country have a stake in democracy.  And, if the State does not take care of the poorest, “the loneliest and the last,” then, I am  afraid, it will be an undemocratic State.

Sir, there  are other plus points in this Bill, which are very, very important.  Women, particularly the women who are on the family way, and the children are the first charge in the bill’s scheme of things.  Another important aspect of the Bill –  one clause which has not been explained – is that the head of the family in every beneficiary family will be a woman, not a man. Now, that is indeed of great societal importance. In this Bill there the head will be the eldest woman of the family.  Now, that kind of proposition is unimaginable in Indian social set up. Your and my passport  lately mention mother’s name also.. Now entitlement is to be determined by the head of the family – a woman.

If the democratic promise has to be fulfilled – although 65 years have gone by —  let’s not lose more. You have to feed the under-nourished families.  If they cannot afford, then the State has got to help.  There are times when you ask your help “well, your son has got the job, congratulation. “Usko tankha to theek mil jayagi?”

“ Daal-roti to ho jayagi,” is often the reply.

These days daal is getting out of the menu of the poor. For most people in India the only source of protein is daal which the poor cannot afford at eighty rupees or ninety rupees a kilo. What a housewife does?  She puts more water to save on daal, reduces the quantity of daal, which is being cooked for the entire family.  In the process, protein is being denied to the children who are already malnourished.  So, they suffer more from malnutrition.

How do you build a democratic, strong India of the 21st century on the basis of hungry or malnourished stomachs?

This Bill goes some way, possibly, I think, to help the needy,  We may have to increase the grain later on at some stage – till the purchasing power of the common man improves. Let us not go by the glitter of the malls or the lifestyles of those of the shining India. Our big aim should be that the entire India shines. This, Sir, is only a beginning.

Thank you very much, Sir.