The latest news from the power corridor suggests that the politics is at its best again, in what it specializes i.e. seducing voters. The ordinance has been passed and in the monsoon session of the parliament will smoothly sail through. No party is showing up the courage to stand up against it. The only dissenting voice i.e. Samajwadi Party has been silenced with, allegedly, some quid pro quo. But again bigger question remains unanswered, for how long doling out of subsidies would remain the unanimous voice off all political parties In India.
The 2009 general elections brought the ruling coalition again to power due to increased urban votes which was impressed by the welfare governance shown by the coalition in form of MNREGS. But we, the so called urban middle class forgot an important forward linkage created by the MNREGS i.e. the disastrous effect it had on Indian agriculture. Consider a hypothetical situation, which of the following would you prefer, working on fields for 8 hrs per day earning Rs 60 daily or doing nothing and earning Rs 80???? Off-course the choice is the second one. Such has been the case here. In India, an overwhelming majority of farmers are marginal and small. The size of the farms doesn’t permit the use of tractors or other automated tools. So the only helping hand for the owner of farm will be the manual labor. Earlier he had to pay barely Rs 50 or 60 daily but since the onset of MNREGS-era wages have artificially risen and thus increasing the input cost for the farmers. Combine this with the already prevailing other constraints like erratic monsoon, middlemen etc makes the farming process a nightmare. Wage increase is good for poverty reduction but it should have been with some other incentives for the farm sector which still employs 49% of Indian labor.
What was required was a scheme for capacity building which would have increased the supply of semi-skilled labor and would have helped to diversify Indian agriculture and generate huge employment opportunities, but unfortunately it was not the case.
Now other massive program of populism is underway i.e. Food Security. It intends to cover 67% of Indian population. The food is being provided at symbolic rates in it. Now, the reality at present, the food inflation in India is at 14%. This is the case when Indian food grain production is 250MT and monsoon, the real finance minister of India is quite normal. Why this is so then? Number of factors plays a devilish role. But, the first and foremost is the biggest hoarder in India i.e. the Government of India. The food corporation of India, on behalf of the government, procures and stores the grain in its warehouses. There is a statutory minimum reserves to be maintained on july 1 each year which is 31MT. but the total reserves at present at FCI is whopping 80MT i.e. one-third of total Indian grain production is not even reaching the market, now what joke is that?
Thus, imagine if MNREGS except for minimal buffer stock rest is released to the market what would have been the rates and its impact on inflation and your monthly budget. This problem is in addition to other ones like supply side bottlenecks, dilapidated infrastructure, unscientific storing in the cold storages etc. but these are the issues which governments for long have been averse to dealing with. India doesn’t need a food security, it needs capacity building so that it people have freedom to choose what they want.
Also further scrutiny suggests that there has been no mention of malnutrition while framing the food security law. India holds the dubious distinction of having maximum number of malnourished children in the world. So much so, that every second child in India is malnourished. But that seems to be beyond the thought process of our lawmakers.
For decades, we the citizens of India have been fooled by governments in the name of welfarism but the reality is that our middle class is just of 200 million. And whopping 1000 Mn or so are reeling under poverty in varying intensity. We need the freedom to excel, to create and utilize our mass human resource. But this yet seems as distant dream unless our parliamentary democracy rises to the need of the hour and moves towards making of prosperous and happy India