Friday, January 27, 2012

Remembering Republic Day

Yesterday was India's Republic day and we should not forget the 44 per cent of children less than five years old who are underweight nor overlook that 65 children die each day of malnutrition. In all, 21 per cent of all Indians are undernourished. The World Bank says that 42 per cent of India’s 1.21 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day while India’s 100 richest people own assets equivalent to a quarter of gross domestic product.

Instead in capitalist time honoured ways, the celebratory parade show-cased India's military muscle. The Indian 2011 defence budget was US$36.03 billion. In 2010, India was the world's leading arms importer accounting for 9% of global imports. By 2015 India will spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programmes. The country is planning to spend almost $45bn over the next 20 years on acquiring 103 new warships.

So-called public food distribution systems (PDS) have operated for years in dozens of countries around the globe. Governments buy up grains from farmers at a guaranteed price, maintain national grain stocks, and distribute grains and other foods through their PDS to consumers at subsidised prices. India's PDS has been selling subsidised food through "fair price shops" on a national basis since the 1970s.

The government in Delhi provides grain stocks to the states, who, in turn, supply the networks of fair price shops. The Food Security Act would increase the amount of grain going through the system by more than 75 per cent. That would raise the total to 66 million tonnes, or more than one third of India's entire grain production. If it were loaded into rail cars, it would occupy a train more than 5000 miles long that would stretch from Delhi to Casablanca. Under the act, a family living below a specified low-income threshold would receive a new food-ration card, allowing each family member seven kilograms of grain each month at ultra-cheap prices: three rupees (about six US cents) per kilogram for rice, two rupees for wheat and just one rupee for sorghum and millet. That programme would serve 46 per cent of the population of rural India and eight per cent of urban residents. Another 27 per cent of Indian households, ones with somewhat higher incomes, would be eligible for three kilograms of grain each month at a higher, but still subsidised, price.

Those who would integrate the PDS more fully into the global marketplace seem to be missing the irony of the current situation, in which rural India's increasing exposure to the global market helped make expansion of the PDS necessary in the first place. Today, most people poor enough to be eligible for food rations live in rural areas where people once grew what they ate. Where diverse food crops once covered the landscape, there are now vast monocultures of cotton, wheat, rice, maize and other crops to be sold for cash - and often not enough cash to pay the debt amassed to grow them. The PDS, originally aimed at cities as a subsidy to manufacturers (to keep the workforce fed on cheap food and allow wages to stay low), is now a lifeline for landless workers in the faltering farm economy, who sow and harvest crops they don't eat, only to then consume low-quality wheat and rice that's been trucked into the village fair-price shop from far away. It is estimated that 250,000 debt-ridden farmers have killed themselves beteen 1995 and 2010 . There are 10 million street children , 50,000 in the streets of Delhi alone, who receive no schooling and have no home. 80-100 million children are trapped in endless cycle of exploitation. Moreover, India has the dubious distinction of having the largest number of child workers in the world.

Extract from here

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