The Right to Food Campaign has released a statement on May 23 condemning the record export of foodgrains from India in 2020-21, at a time when the country’s people are struggling with hunger amid the COVID-19 crisis.
India is currently reeling under the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the rural areas coming under the grip of the virus at an unprecedented level. While the Centre has avoided a nationwide lockdown this year, several states have announced lockdowns leading to severe economic distress among people, especially informal sector workers in both urban and rural areas.
According to the RTFC statement, the situation is even worse than last year as “the burden of healthcare expenses is also high, with many more people dealing with illness in the household”. Further, the timing of the second wave is also unfortunate as “this has come at the back of a year of slowdown, job loss and declining wages”.
The statement also highlighted the government’s apathy towards the poorer subjects which is visible from the lack of compensation measures this year. It said, “The livelihood and food security crisis facing the poor and informal sector workers across the country has been completely invisibilised with hardly any special packages being announced towards supporting them in this time of crisis.”
In addition to this, the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana announced by the government to provide relief to the affected population for just two months (May and June) covers only those who are already included under the National Food Security Act.
In this backdrop, the RTFC has demanded “the immediate universalisation of the Public Distribution System (PDS) and distribution of additional 5 kg of foodgrains per person and 1.5 kg of pulses and 800 gm cooking oil under the PDS with its expansion (while enhancing Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana) for a period of at least six months”.
However, the government instead of focusing on ensuring enough foodgrains for the people, has been engaged in export of foodgrains, the RTFC statement said. Citing news reports, the RTFC said that “13.09 mt non-basmati rice, 4.63 mt basmati rice and 2.09 mt wheat was exported in 2020-21, a year when millions of Indians faced a situation of hunger and food insecurity, reducing the quantity and quality of food they consumed”.
This enormous quantity of exported foodgrains, if used for distribution through PDS, could have provided 5 kg a month (excluding basmati rice) for a whole year to over 25 crore people, the RTFC highlighted. Not only that, the rate at which 13.09 mt of basmati rice was exported (Rs 27 per kg) is even lower than the Food Corporation of India’s economic cost of rice, i.e. around Rs 37 per kg, as per the data given by Harish Damodaran in the Indian Express.
While foodgrain stocks including rice, wheat, unmilled paddy and millets, in the FCI godowns are at a record high of 100 million tonnes, the government has so far not extended the benefits of PMGKAY beyond June, despite it being clear that the effects of the pandemic are going to last longer.
The RTFC statement said that “it is becoming quite apparent that the government does not care about filling the stomachs of the hungry in the country, and is happy to rather export the grains or use them for other purposes (like it was done for ethanol production last year)”.
Stressing on the need to strengthen the public procurement system, the statement said that the record stock of foodgrains that can be used for maintaining food security for all in times of crisis like this are owing to the system of public procurement and Minimum Support Price (MSP). However, the government’s policies are directed towards taking away the MSP and therefore, it is important to support the ongoing farmers’ struggle against the new farm laws.