Summon the will

Summon the will

The proposed legislation provides food grains at subsidised rates for India’s poorest. It would cover 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. The legislation has been criticised by social activists and food security experts as not going far enough, for being tight-fisted in its support to the poor and not bringing more of the poor under its purview.

The bill, in its present form, has been described as a diluted version of the original. It is shocking that the Union cabinet is unable to muster the will to pass even this moth-eaten legislation.

Those opposed to the bill’s passage —Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is among the main stumbling blocks—are pointing to the heavy burden the bill will impose, especially in the context of a sluggish economy and rising food prices.

Pawar has drawn attention to the problem of finding the requisite amount of grains in the event of a famine. Of course, implementation of the legislation is not easy. But why is it only when subsidies are being extended to the poor that decision makers get so agitated and raise a hue and cry about the magnitude of the subsidy bill?

Tax write-offs for the rich are many times the size of the additional burden of the food subsidy bill. Yet this doesn’t evoke even a whimper of protest about its impact on the economy from politicians like Pawar. The government perpetually complains that it doesn’t have the money when it comes to food subsidies for the poor. It is not money but the will that the government lacks. 

Even if the government doesn’t have the money to foot the bill, it should find a way to raise the resources rather than be a perpetual naysayer. This ‘can’t do’ attitude when it comes to tackling hunger is unconscionable in a country that is home to the largest number of hungry and malnutritioned. The bill is a step towards alleviating hunger in the country. The cabinet must give its assent to it when it comes up for discussion this week.

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