Submission of the General Secretary
Respected Guests & Esteemed Members of our Federation,
We are meeting here today primarily to commemorate the 150th year of Swami Vivekananda?s birth and to pay our humble homage to the Great Path Finder who dreamt of today and visualized the tomorrow for all Indians. We mourn the loss of Pandit Ravi Shankar the Great Sitar Maestro.
I will follow it up with a humble discourse on the future of Public Distribution System, as it stands now with our apprehensions about its future and conclude with a National Seminar on ?Food for All? where your views are welcome and requested for.
Admittedly, we are not properly equipped to speak much on Swamijis teachings and we will leave that to our erudite and Honored Guests to enlighten us in this regard.
We are Fair Price Shops and constitute thereby an integral part of the Public Distribution System. The decisions of the Union Govt. and for that matter the State Govts. relate to us directly. In this context, I would like to submit my humble views on the prospects, apprehensions and submissions relating to the Public Distribution System in a nut shell.
Public Distribution System in India had been the first of its kind in the continent of Asia and mustered the taste of time. It saved the Indian people from Food scarcity and starvation acting as a shield. This concept of Universal PDS was contemplated in tune to the guarantee of food given to all Indian Citizens by the Constitution of India. Indian Constitution makers were wise enough to appreciate the socio-economic hazards of sacrificing the people to the alter of open market economy.
Public Distribution System in India continued to run smoothly and successfully upto mid 90s after which there was a change in the Govt. at the Center. The NDA Govt. after coming to power, dealt the first blow on Public Distribution System by shrinking the limits of PDS and changing its nature of Universality to restrictivity by bringing about the concept of Targeted Public Distribution System in which the Consumers were put in different classes in a process which was neither scientific nor assessed and to say the least, without contemplating about its dire consequences. In fact, this decision was in clear contradiction and in total negation of the Right to Food for all Indians irrespective of their classes. In a Country where universal adult franchise is in vogue, such qualitative restriction to Right to Food was a misnomer by itself.
History repeated itself and the NDA Govt. was ousted from Power owing to its ante-people policies with targeting of PDS being one of its primary causes and the UPA came into power with expectations of people rising high. Without going into the day to day chronology, let us assess what we find now.
We find to our utter consternation and dismay that the UPA-II Govt. has found it convenient to go two leaps ahead and declare a dooms day for the PDS by introducing ante-PDS measures like Direct Cash Transfer of Subsidies and the Food Security Bill- a master mind of the majority members of the National Advisory Council, of course with definite decedents.
Let me now offer my humble submissions to the decision of the UPA-II Govt. on Direct Cash Transfer of Subsidy. The very concept suffers from the logical fallacy of ?Petitio Principii? and I understand, that reportedly Shri Rahul Gandhiji in his infinite wisdom desired that the nomenclature of ?Direct Cash Transfer of Cash Subsidy?, to be changed to ?Direct Benefit Transfer?. Let us now, consider and ponder whether it is at all rational to decide upon grant of Cash Subsidy to a beneficiary without having any control whatsoever on the varying and spiraling open market price of foodgrains. To take for example, an eligible person is supposedly granted Rs.700/- for purchase of 35 kgs. of foodgrains @ Rs.20/- per kg. Will there be any guarantee on the part of central Govt. that the open market retail price of foodgrains will never exceed the anticipated amount of Rs.20/- per kg. If not, increase in the open market price will automatically curtail the requirement of the consumer and put him in distress. Thus, grant of Cash Subsidy or Cash Benefit whatsoever the term, can never succeed unless a restriction on the open market price is imposed which, unfortunately, the UPA Govt. dares not to impose for its compulsion on open market economy and Free Trade Friends.
There is another major point to ponder. It is a matter of conjecture as to whether the proposed Cash Transfer will ensure that the cash so transferred would be utilized for the sole purpose of purchasing foodgrains. In fact, an unfortunate poor person has many necessities to meet and they are supposed to spent the available money on priority basis with Food may not always topping the list. Thus, with the money made available for food being spent for other emergencies may leave the person with no available funds to procure his two square meals. Situation will be admittedly disastrous for them with PDS not being available as their savior.
I would like to inform that the proposed scheme of Direct Cash Transfer had been used on an experimental basis at Kotkashim under Alowar district of Rajasthan and it was found that the Cash Subsidy reached the beneficiaries very late and even senior citizens of more than 80 years of age had to reach their banks at a distance 6 to 8 kms. by paying fares from own pockets and in many cases though there had been no order to keep minimum Bank deposits, they were to forced to deposit minimum balances and as an end result, they were deprived of their allotted Kerosene quota and had to procure the item at much higher prices . In short, the scheme flopped miserably and only but added to the miseries of the poor. You may like to draw your own conclusions.
The realities of the situation demand that the people must be supplied their legitimate quotas of Foodgrains & Kerosene on the basis of Ration Cards which are valid, legalized and accepted documents and not on the proposed Adhar Cards which aim to be multipurpose in ambitions but can certainly not relate specifically to the entitlements of the Consumers for Foodgrains & Kerosene. Moreover, the full-fledged completion of identification under Adhar Cards may be such a long drawn process that it may grow whiskers on it.
It is a matter of relief that the Central Govt. has been inclined to give the scheme a second thought and has decided to defer the scheme relating to PDS supplies including Kerosene for the time being. We all hope that good sense will prevail and the Central Govt. will appreciate the realities and forego such cloud-cuckoo conjectures.
Now, I would solicit your attention to the national Food security Bill which tends to exclude the entire Lower-Middle-Class & Middle-Class people from the ambits of PDS forcing them to fall prey to spiraling open market prices of foodgrains over which, the Central Govt. do not have and do not propose to have any control. Such an ante-people Bill will not only deprive people from their Food Security but will certainly bring about Food Insecurity. It is most unfortunate that when lakhs of tones of foodgrains are being decayed every year due to inadequate storage spaces with the Hon?ble Supreme Court frowning upon such colossal wastage, Govt. of India is being blind to such realities. Above all, it is quite amusing to note that the Central Govt. is accepting placidly the thousand of crores siphoned out in scams but is inclined to jump upon the decision to make a drastic cut in the Subsidy on PDS foodgrains & Kerosene. May be, Common Wealth Games and Telecom Scams headed the list of preferences over supply of Food & Kerosene to Indian Citizens.
Shri Vilas Rao Muttemwar Ji, Hon?ble Chairman of the Standing Committee on Food & Public Distribution submitted the draft National Food Security Bill-2011 with their comments, not withstanding ?serious differences? amongst its Members, to the Hon?ble Speaker of Lok Sabha on 16th January 2013 and the UPA Govt. aims to introduce the Bill in the forthcoming Budget Session of the Parliament. It is a matter of relief that many Committee Members, because of their Political affiliation, have opposed the Committee?s suggestions but their views have been included in the final report. Several States, however, have expressed reservations about the proposed Food Security Bill. Govt. of West Bengal has been demanding Food for All right in their Election Manifesto before coming to Power in the year 2011. Chhatisgarh has already enacted its Food security Law under which close to 90% of the population will be entitled to 35 kgs of Rice per month at a token price and 2 kgs of Pulses @ Rs.5/- per kg with free supply of Iodised Salt. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Shri Akhilesh Yadav informed the Prime Minister that the Bill, in its present form, could not benefit the poorer Sates and should be amended. Shri Yadav demanded a universal coverage of subsidized grain supply in rural UP and 95% coverage in the urban areas. Bihar Chief Minister, Shri Nitish Kumar demanded the creation of a BPL Commission for determining the number of families who would get subsidized grains. Govt. of Tripura has also demanded universal PDS. Housing & Urban Poverty Alleviation Minister, Shri Ajoy Maken has demanded that identification of urban poor should be made on the basis of recommendations of the Hasim Committee. The Left Parties have already undertaken the program of a Mass Signature Campaign throughout the Country against the proposed Food Security Bill. We had, on our part, launched a similar program much earlier.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that our struggle for Food for All will be relentlessly continued and our motto will be in the Golden Words of Swami Vivekananda ?MANTRER SADHAN KIMBA SARIR PATAN? which means we must be successful in our mission or submit ourselves in the alter of self-sacrifice. With the blessings of the Saint, we will start our All India agitational program during the Budget session of Parliament on a Do or Die basis.
I humbly owe profuse acknowledgement to our People friendly & PDS-friendly Hon?ble Chief Minister of West Bengal and to the Hon?ble Union Food Minister Prof. K.V. Thomas for accepting our invitation, Hon?ble Food & Supplies Minister, Shri Jyoti Priya Mallick but for whose help our instant program could not have been successful, Hon?ble Finance Minister Dr. Amit Mitra, Hon?ble Panchayet, Rural Development & Public Health Engineering Minister, Shri Subrata Mukhopadhyay, Hon?ble Health & Law Minister, Smt. Chandrima Bhattacharjee and specially to our Mentor, Prof. Saugata Roy, Hon?ble MP, Lok Sabha who has been our life-force over all these years as also to Shri Madan Mitra, Hon?ble Sports & Transport Minister for kindly allowing us to stage our program at the present venue and also to all of you who have taken the trouble to assemble here to endorse our views and give inspiration to our future programmes.
Wish you all a very Happy & Prosperous New Year.