Monday, July 23, 2012

Standing on the Threshold: Food Justice in India

Day 1

About 44 per cent of Indian children under age five are underweight and 48% are stunted. India is home to 42% of the world’s underweight children and 31 per cent of its stunted children. On IFPRI’s Global Hunger Index, while China has a rank of 9 with only moderate levels of hunger, India has a rank of 67 with "alarming" levels of hunger. 1 in 3 of the world’s hungry live in India. It is in this context that the Oxfam-IDS Sussex Bulletin entitled "Standing on the Threshold: Food Justice in India” was launched during the 2 day conference, which took place at the Constitution Club, New Delhi on 17-18 July, 2012. The programme was sponsored by Grow Campaign, Oxfam India, IDS Sussex and Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy.

Biraj Swain, Campaign Manager and Grow Lead, Oxfam India informed the audience that the Food Justice movement was launched in 2011. Over a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry. 80 percent of women farmers do not have land titles. The Food Justice movement is insisting on universalizing food and nutritional rights to all. 50 percent of small farmers in India do not have access to public distribution system (PDS). 70 percent of farmers are net buyers of food. ‘Policy pluralism’ has been called for. Hence, there is a demand to recognize the role of small and marginal farmers; recognize the role of women in food security; and, recognize the leadership role that India can play in the backdrop of climate change [Read: Breaking old barriers and building new alliances for Food Justice in India and globally, 16 July, 2012,]. She informed that IDS Sussex and Oxfam India are committed to preparing a Hunger Reduction Commitment Index and for accomplishing that task a survey has been completed in 3 BIMARU states i.e. Odisha, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.       

Nisha Agarwal, CEO, Oxfam India said the Food Justice movement aimed to fix the broken food system. Of the one billion people around the world who are worried about daily access to food, one fourth of them live in India. The Food Justice movement brought together various strands of work. Oxfam India is working with 180 grassroots NGOs. It is marching ahead with a campaign, which is rooted in India. Issues of food production and food distribution have been kept in mind during the campaign. Oxfam India has Indianized the ‘Grow Campaign’. Oxfam India is engaged in localizing the campaign with solid research base. It has asked the Government to invest more in agriculture. Lawrence Haddad and his team at IDS Sussex has partnered with Oxfam India. A set of 15 policy papers has been launched, which have been written by 21 contributors, of which 18 are from India. Quoting NC Saxena, Nisha said that despite increasing the GDP by 10 percent in a year, India is unable to reduce hunger and malnutrition by 1 percent in 10 years. Growth is unable to deliver anything substantial to the poor who constitute 50 percent of Indian population. She informed the audience about a high level meeting on National Food Security Bill to be held on 18 July, 2012. There has been a complete ‘policy paralysis’ in terms of enacting important legislations. The 10 recipes for Food Justice in India mentioned by her are as follows:
  1. Food rights be enshrined in a Right to Food Act that provides nutritious food for all.
  2. Various public schemes for providing food and nutrition (such as the PDS, ICDS, MDMS and IGMSY) be reformed and made more accountable to communities.
  3. Laws that protect the property rights of vulnerable groups, including women and tribals (such as the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, the Forest Rights Act) get enacted and implemented fully and genuinely.
  4. Indian and multinational companies investing in agriculture locally and globally do so in a responsible, ethical and sustainable manner.
  5. Indian and other world leaders agree to a just and equitable global deal on climate change
  6. The capabilities of farming communities to cope with the impacts of climate change be built.
  7. Investments are made in Second Green Revolution in Eastern India that is more equitable and sustainable and focuses on rain-fed areas and does not replicate the problems of first Green Revolution.
  8. Women’s important role as producers and processors of food is recognized and support is provided to them that is tailored to meet their needs.
  9. India plays an active role in the global system (Committee on World Food Security-CFS, G8, G20, US, EU member states) to prevent future food price crisis, and to respond to them in a coordinated manner when they occur.
  10. Community based mechanisms for mitigating and preparing for drought and other disasters that can cause food scarcity and food crises be strengthened and supported.    

Prof. Lawrence Haddad ( informed that he has been working on the issue of food security in India since the last 30 years. India has the capacity to radicalize the food security issue. Green Revolution was radical application of science that quadrupled yield. However, GR has its own set of problems for e.g. it could not reach out to the poor. Amartya Sen’s work on democracy and famines pointed out the role to be played by media in an open society. The Right to Food Justice movement is going to set an example before the rest of the world. For doing the Oxfam-IDS Bulletin entitled ‘Standing on the Threshold: Food Justice in India”, IDS Sussex partnered with IDRC, Oxfam India and other NGOs. In preparing the Bulletin, knowledge from insiders is given preference over knowledge from outsiders. India’s Food Security Bill would cover 70 percent of all Indian households. India stands on the threshold of potentially the largest step towards food justice the world has ever seen. This is because Mexico’s cash transfer scheme caters to only 30 percent of its population.

Prof. Haddad mentioned about Harsh Mander’s paper which says that a lot of civic and judicial activism was involved in pushing ahead the Food Security Bill. Regarding the potential, he said that rights are needed to be realized. Right is only as strong as the programmes that deliver. There are many threats to food security that are beyond the Bill’s ambit. India’s food security and malnutrition rates are high and stubborn. Regarding rights gained, Haddad said that it took 50 years of civil and judicial activism to make Article 21 and 47 “judiciable”—the last 10 years being very active. He said that rights would be realized after overcoming exclusion. The litmus paper test would be whether rights empower the poor. He asked whether the unique ID system empowers the poorest or the bureaucrats. Harsh’s paper says that rights are necessary but NC Saxena’s paper says that rights are necessary but not sufficient. Rights can be gained and taken away. CP Chandrasekhar’s paper deals with food price volatility due to speculation. The new challenge to food security is climate change. Rights can be eroded as they cannot stay forever. In order to continue keeping the pressure on, there is a need to prepare the Hunger Reduction Commitment Index. The biggest crisis is about 43 percent of children whose brains are being damaged due to malnutrition. There are 4 landmark bills which are waiting for the Parliament’s nod i.e. National Food Security Bill, Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, Women’s Land Entitlement Bill and Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Bill. For making the impact of the bills visible, transparency is needed. There is need to strengthen scrutiny and recourse systems. The State needs to be proactive in protecting, respecting, fulfilling and facilitating the rights. During the 1970s and 1980s, India increased its foodgrain production. In the 1990s and 2000s, there was a rise in income but fall in calorie consumption in India, Haddad noted.            

During the 1st session on 17th July, 2012, Dr. NC Saxena, Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food, said that his paper’s title is Hunger and Nutrition in India. He said that India’s GDP growth since the 1980s has picked up. From 1990s onward, India has witnessed 6.9 percent growth per annum. The 2010 Global Hunger Index Scores finds that countries poorer than India have faced lesser hunger. Child mortality and malnutrition are quite high in India. Between 1996 and 2011, Hunger Index in India rose. Agricultural production has been satisfactory in India. In the last 14 years, annual growth in crop production (as deciphered from the index of crop production) declined as compared to the previous decade. Per capita annual food production (in kg) has not increased. In 2002-03, despite lower production, prices were stabilized as stocks were sold as animal feed. Per capita daily availability of foodgrain (in grams) has declined in 2010 and came to the level as they existed in the mid 1970s. In India, poor do not have enough purchasing power and hence they have lower consumption levels. Rise in government stocks is leading to decline in availability. The buffer norm varied between 20 and 30 million tonnes. But actual stock went up during 2007-2012. There is a need to improve offtake. Foodgrain wholesale price index has been steadily going up since 1999 onwards. In 2002, per capita monthly rural consumption of foodgrains (in kg) was 20.5 kg in Vietnam and 13 kg in India. During 2004-06, per capita consumption of all cereal (in kg per year) was 175.1 kg in India, 287.9 kg in China, 953 kg in the US and 316 kg at the global level. During 2004-06, per capita consumption of all meat (in kg per year) was 5.3 kg in India, 56.8 kg in China, 126.6 kg in the US and 40.2 kg at the global level. Hence, India cannot be blamed for increased demand for foodgrain that resulted in global inflation as was once pointed out by George Bush. The underlying causes of hunger are: a. Falling per capita crop production; b. Increasing share of surplus states, leading to artificial surplus and further to export; and c. Increasing inequality with only marginal rise in the per capita expenditure of the bottom 30 percent. From their meager incomes, poor are forced to spend more on medical care, education, transport, fuel, light etc. thus reducing the share of their expenditure on food. There is low access of the poor to expensive food such as pulses. There is low access to ICDS. Food subsidy in India has increased from Rs. 79 billion in 1997-98 to Rs. 313 billion in 2007-08 and further to Rs. 602 billion in 2011-12. Food production in India has increased from 192 million tonnes in 1997-98 to 231 million tonnes in 2007-08 and further to 253 million tonnes in 2011-12. The last PDS evaluation by the Planning Commission took place in 2003 and it found out that 58 percent of PDS grain does not reach the below poverty line (BPL) population, only 22 percent reaches to the above poverty line (APL) population and 36 percent of PDS grain is sold out in black market. Dr. Saxena urged that the Government should do another round of evaluation of the country’s PDS.       

Dr. NC Saxena said that the factors behind Chhattisgarh’s PDS success are: a. Political will; b. Private dealers replaced by panchayats; c. 70 percent of the population covered at Rs. 2/ Rs. 1 per kg of rice; d. Huge investment from state revenues; e. Chhattisgarh is a rice surplus state; f. 500 people put behind the bars for indulging in corruption; g. Toll free number for grievance redressal and h. Constant monitoring. In Chhattisgarh, the PDS department has been kept out of the ambit of money making or corruption since PDS has been considered important to win elections. West Bengal can’t improve its PDS since its fiscal position is not good. Dr. Saxena displayed the following table (Source: 12th Five Year Plan) during his presentation regarding the distribution of cardholders among poor and non-poor.

Dr. Saxena said that Socio-economic and Caste Census (SECC) cannot reduce inclusion and exclusion errors. He asked for the PDS to be universalized in the poorest 150 districts. Despite President’s address to the nation in June, 2009, Food Security for All and reforms in the PDS could not happen. The National Advisory Council took the following decisions under UPA-2:
  1. Cover 90 percent rural and 50 percent urban population
  2. 46 percent of rural and 28 percent urban to get 7 kg unit of rice/ wheat/ millets at Rs. 3/2/1 per kg
  3. 44 percent rural and 22 percent urban to get 7 kg per unit at 50 percent of the current minimum support price
  4. Legal entitlements for child and maternal nutrition, MDMS for school children as well as community kitchens and programmes for feeding destitute and vulnerable groups.

These recommendations can be implemented through an administrative order without waiting for the Food Bill to be passed by Parliament. There are issues before the National Food Security Bill which are yet to be resolved. It is debated: whether PDS should be universalized or targeted; whether 25 kg or 35 kg of foodgrains per household to be distributed under PDS; what should be the price of foodgrains which is sold in ration shops; should procurement be increased even when per capita production does not increase; what would happen to the already existing APL allocation in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and the North East; should foodgrain exports continue?; should UID be introduced for PDS?; and accountability initiatives under PDS. He said that pension is a direct cash transfer which is quite popular. However, there are problems associated in replacing the PDS with direct cash transfer such as: a. Large scale substitution is not feasible as PDS provides outlets for grain bought from the farmers at minimum support price; b. Pilots can be tried in urban areas; and, c. Institutionalized deliveries have gone up because of direct cash transfers. He said that direct cash transfers required good banking structure, functional registration and widespread debit cards. In India, out of the total health expenditure, one fourth is funded by the government and three fourth is out of pocket expenditure. In the United Kingdom, out of the total health expenditure, three fourth is funded by the government and one fourth is out of pocket expenditure. 

Prof. Yogendra Yadav (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said that there is lack of political will arising out of complex political processes. There is a paradox of poverty among plenty. Despite rule of the masses in democracy, the status quo of the elites is maintained. Overwhelming choice of the masses does not become the ruling agenda. Rulers do not rule on the basis of majority decisions. For two-third of Indian population, food availability is an issue. Opinion polls suggest that 90 percent of the poor have no problem calling themselves as poor. Unlike the United States, in India the poorer one is, s/he is more likely to vote. In a Brazilian system, it is comparatively difficult to take pro-poor decisions. The ata dal scheme prior to the Punjab election worked wonders for the ruling parties. It was a successfully targeted scheme. The Food Security Bill has languished in the Parliament. The NAC is doing what the politicians should be doing and the politicians are acting like technocrats nowadays. There are structural issues in Indian polity. Elections are much celebrated in India. It connects State power with the citizens. The mega-scale of Indian polity is unmatched. There are multiple layers within the political structure. As we go down the tiers of democracy, citizens’ participation rises. However, the distribution of power goes the other way round. National governments escape accountability. Panchayats/ municipalities do not enjoy enough power. Struggles and movements face the problem of fragmentation. The primary identity of the poor is not poverty. It is something else. Movement of political activists from lower to upper rung does not happen as it happened in the case of Lula in Brazil. There has been systematic masking of rural crisis in the media. Questions of chronic deprivation, hunger and malnutrition are repressed by the media. Structure of accountability is fragile in media. There has been capture of political parties by families not only in India but also in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Political parties are crowded by filmstars, singers, filthy rich people etc. Replying to a question, Prof. Yadav said that forward trading in food passes on the risk of global trading to primary producers. However, the government has not intervened to protect producers of food. When the price of ‘guar ki fali’ (used for manufacturing industrial adhesive) shot up, farmers could not enjoy the price hike. Non-elected and non-representative individuals have played key roles in the Right to Food movement. In 2004, the Left arm twisted the Congress to pursue its own manifesto, which later led to enacting of important legislations like NREGA, Forest Rights Act etc. This delicate situation, confessed Prof. Yadav, reminded him of Karl Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (See:      

In his video message to the conference, Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food said that after People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed a PIL with the Supreme Court of India in 2001, various progressive orders were made by the latter to strengthen the Right to Food movement. Nearly 500 “affidavits”  have been submitted by the petitioner (PUCL) and respondents, close to a hundred “interim applications” have been filed, and 49 “interim orders” have been issued [See: Supreme Court Orders on the Rights to Food: A Tool for Action,]. Since Right to Food will become legislation, so it will be relieved of corruption and political manipulation. India must focus on poverty among women and shall try to improve local food systems. India should follow the principle: People first and not profit first. Not only irrigated but dryland farming should be targeted so that small and marginal farmers gain. Women’s role in food security of the household should be recognized. Government should rethink on export led agriculture and policy of Special Economic Zones. Sanitation and health care also leads to food security. Gap between farm gate price and retail price should be closed by bringing together producers and consumers of food. There should be regulation of agri-food corporations. Finally, Olivier De Schutter wished the researchers associated with the publication of Bulletin.

The 2nd session on 17th July, 2012 entitled: New Roles, New Rules and New Alliances was chaired by Dr. Amir Ullah Khan, Deputy Director, Strategy, Planning and Management, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He said that food security is an issue of interest to most of the citizens. Earlier after India gained Independence, people worried whether India had enough to survive. Thanks to the Green Revolution, India could feed its people. Due to setting in of complacency in the last one and half decades, investment in agriculture has fallen. India has seen cereal price inflation and child malnutrition. He asked whether India should get carried away by growth. He asked whether investment has to be measured as percentage of GDP and asked whether one should make a choice between public and private investment. There is debate between growth and inclusion. If social expenditure rises, fiscal deficit would rise. If wages rise, inflation would occur. If minimum support price is increased, inflation in food will take place. Amir Ullah asked whether a PDS that cater to the middle-class be subsidized. A time has come to debate on such issues, Amir Ullah insisted.   

Harsh Mander, from Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food, presented his paper entitled: Judicial activism and the progressive reading of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. He said that food for all and health for all are ‘just’ demands. He told the story of a man in O Henry’s story who wanted to get into a jail so as to get free food [See: The Cop and the Anthem,]. By referring to Article 21, he said that there is an acknowledgement of fundamental right to life by the Indian Constitution. He told that in April 2001, People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL, Rajasthan) filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court seeking legal enforcement of the right to food [See: Supreme Court Orders on the Rights to Food: A Tool for Action,]. He informed that the Supreme Court passed 4 kinds of orders:
  1. Schemes cannot be reduced. So schemes have to be converted into entitlements.
  2. Expand the content of this programme.
  3. Universalize the entitlements. Hence education cess of 2 percent was passed to financially support this order.
  4. Institute a mechanism to implement this order. Hence the office of the Supreme Court Commissioner on Right to Food was established.

After the Congress was back to power in 2009, the NAC took the Food Security Bill at the outset. In South Africa, Right to Food is a fundamental right. Elaborating the scope of the Act, Mander described that the Right to Food campaign said that food production should be taken into account under the Right to Food. There is a debate generated whether the PDS should be universalized or it should remain as it is. There has been emphasis on the type of food to be included under the National Food Security Bill: pulses, millets etc. People have questioned whether the middle class should be taxed to support the poor. The Prime Minister is concerned about the cost of the National Food Security Bill which is estimated to be Rs. 1,40,000 crore a year. The tax-GDP ratio in India is too low. If more than 5 lakh crores a year can be given as tax sops to the corporate sector, then there is enough money available to finance the National Food Security Bill. He recalled Noam Chomsky who once said that social protection is about taking care of each other. Children born in female-headed musahar dalit households are found to eat half-digested foodgrains present in cow dungs, and leftover foodgrains spread over crop fields. Fermented starch is given to children so that they don’t demand for food. Grass and herbs having no nutritional value are also consumed by the poor people. Mothers give their children intoxicants to help them sleep hungry. Objective of the National Food Security Bill would be to stop mothers giving such lessons to children on how to go to sleep despite hunger, Mander added. He said that India is unable to reap the benefit of demographic dividend. Every 2nd child born is undernourished. Mander considered land reforms as a programme for social transformation.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta (Senior Journalist) and Subi Chaturvedi (researcher at IIT, Delhi) presented their paper Riding the Tiger-Mainstreaming Food and Nutrition in Media. Subi said that people outside the research and academic arena should know about the issues related to food security. Teenage consumption of media is quite high i.e. 10 hours per day. There is extensive corporate ownership of media. Plural voices are lacking in media. There has been homogenization of content. A lot of cross media ownership is happening. There is vested interest in corporate ownership. The phenomenon of paid news is getting widespread. There is no dearth of space or platform. Facts and issues relating to food and nutrition justice find expression in the mass media around the world. In India that expression ranges from the sensational to the mundane. Media is not homogenous. The need is to tell the story well. Young generation now listen to grave issues on Satyameva Jayate. Instead of following a blanket approach in presenting the case for food and nutrition justice to all sections of the mass media, advocates and experts must adopt a nuanced approach in articulating messages that are designed for specific audiences. Faces of people had to be presented before cold statistics. Individual cases help create ‘human interest’ news stories, which in turn can help mobilize public opinion around hunger/ malnutrition related stories. Paranjoy said that advertisement expenditure has been curtailed recently. Telecommunication and media companies are coming together. In Delhi 16 English dailies are published. However, there are so many oligarchs in the media industry. Once upon a time it was thought that good news is no news and bad news is good news. Nowadays only positive stories are entertained by the media. Paranjoy contended that economic inequality is rising due to inflation.   

The title of R Ramakumar’s (Tata Institute of Social Sciences, paper was Investment, Expenditure and Credit in Indian Agriculture. He said that agricultural sector is important since agriculture has the largest potential to reduce poverty. Irrigation leads to higher growth and rural infrastructure helps in poverty reduction. His paper dealt with trajectory of agricultural investments and expenditure between 1950s and 2000s. Data from various official sources were separately analyzed. He said that food justice and right can be realized only when agricultural production is increased. In the 1970s, the share of agricultural Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) in agricultural GDP grew sharply and reached its peak value of 12 percent in 1979-80. The growth of agricultural GFCF began to decline in the second half of the 1980s. The 1990s witnessed a sharp fall in the share of agricultural GFCF to agricultural GDP; in 1998/99, this share was almost half of that in 1979-80. In the 2000s, the share began to rise, reaching 14 percent of the agricultural GDP in 2005-06 and 17 percent of the agricultural GDP in 2009-10. Thus, there was revival of GFCF in agriculture in the 2000s. Public investment in agriculture as a share of agricultural GDP, rose till the late 1970s, began to decline from the early 1980s and continued to decline in the 1990s up to 2004-05. Public investment induces or ‘crowds in’ private investment by farmers. Public investment in irrigation leads to complementary private investment in constructing private investment in constructing field channels and bunds, drainage and leveling of fields. In the 1990s and 2000s, the shift in the relationship of complementarity was unmistakable. Private investment grew in the absence of preceding public investment. There are fewer cultivators who are investing in the 1990s and 2000s. The newer forms of investment preferred are: construction of wells and other irrigation sources, farm houses and investment in improvement/ reclamation of decreased. The implications of autonomous rise in private investment are: groundwater exploitation, acute problem of salinity, increase in pumping depths, rise in pumping costs and reduction in well yields. Public investment is required for surface irrigation and is crucial for land augmentation. In 1990s and 2000s, there was decline in the rate of growth of public spending on agricultural research and extension compared to earlier decades. A consequence of the squeeze on formal credit in the 1990s was a sharp fall in the growth of credit flow to agriculture. The slowdown in agricultural credit in the 1990s was reversed in the period after 2000, and particularly after 2004-05. Though availability of credit may drive private investment, credit need not always be employed productively on the farm. Only a part of the additional supply of agricultural credit in the 2000s has been directed to cultivators. In 1990 about 87 percent of agricultural credit was provided as direct finance (given directly to farmers). In 2010, only 76 percent of total agricultural credit was direct finance. There have been definitional changes on what constitutes credit in agriculture. For example, from 2007 onwards, two-thirds of loans given to corporates, partnership firms and institutions for agricultural and allied activities in excess of Rs. 1 crore per borrower were considered as indirect finance to agriculture by RBI. Ramakumar said the policy of bank nationalization was completely reversed by financial liberalization in 1991. He said that credit meant for farmers is not going to them. A loan above the size of Rs. 2 lakh can hardly be termed as a loan to an Indian farmer. Yet, in 2010, loans above the size of Rs. 2 lakh constituted 56 percent of all agricultural credit. Loans of size above 25 crore constituted 18 percent of all agricultural credit. From 2002-03 onwards, agricultural credit grew rapidly compared to capital formation in agriculture. A smaller portion of the credit supplied to agriculture was transformed into capital investment in agriculture in the 2000s.
Day 2

On 18th July, Nisha Agarwal, CEO, Oxfam India briefed the Food Minister KV Thomas about the Food Justice movement which is meant to mend the broken food system.

Food Minister KV Thomas congratulated Oxfam India and IDS Sussex teams for bringing out the publication on food justice. Such an important seminar can definitely make one understand the issue, Thomas believed. The conference is held at a time when the important issues related to the National Food Security Bill would be discussed in the presence of Prime Minister on 18 July, he informed. The technological breakthrough achieved through the Green Revolution in the 1960s helped the country to achieve self-sufficiency in foodgrain production. In 1947 when the population was only 40 crore, India had to import rice to feed itself. Ships used to come loaded with rice and wheat in the Cochin port. Nowadays Cochin port is used to export foodgrains and other products. To implement food security at the individual or household level, there are various schemes and programmes of the Government. The two schemes-TPDS and Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) are targeting the poor population. Even APL population is covered under the TPDS. There are more than 5 lakh fair price shops spread across India. India lacks an efficient and modern food distribution system for storage, transportation and distribution. Personally, Thomas wanted everyone to get food under the PDS provided the distribution system is foolproof. However, there is leakage to the extent of 15-20 percent. When rice is sold at Rs. 5 per kg in Kerala, Rs. 18 per kg is the subsidy component. There is cost associated with storage and transportation. Subsidized foodgrains is given to 6.5 crore BPL households (which includes 2.5 crore AAY households) and 11.5 crore APL households. There are schemes specifically targeting malnutrition among women and children such as ICDS and MDMS. The UPA 2 government proposed a new Food Security law when it came to power in 2009. The Government held widespread consultations with state governments, experts and many NGOs. Government welcomed suggestions and inputs. The proposed National Food Security Bill has taken into account a Life Cycle Approach to food security. The proposed Bill wants to provide nutritional support to women and children. The mother is considered as the head of the household under the National Food Security Bill. Elaborate mechanisms are there in the Bill to ensure transparency and accountability. NGOs and local bodies have crucial roles to play. NGOs are doing good work in Chhattisgarh when it comes to ensuring transparency in the PDS. The proposed NFSB will cover 75 percent of rural population and 50 percent of urban population. There is a discussion going on whether the BPL-APL distinction is dissolved so that the larger community gains from the National Food Security Bill. India currently procures 20-25 percent of foodgrain that is produced annually. India is also subject to vagaries of nature. There has been a rise in minimum support price but the issue price has remained the same. The annual food security burden on the exchequer is Rs. 88000 crore, which was Rs. 45000 crore five years back. On the basis of 2011 census, the annual food subsidies will go up to Rs. 109000 crore. Earlier India needed 50-55 million tonnes of foodgrains under the PDS. Based on the new Census 2011, India requires 60 million tonnes of foodgrains. Under the proposed NFSB India needs 65 million tonnes of foodgrains. India has to take a practical approach to food security, Thomas urged. 

Chairing the 1st session of 18th July, 2012 entitled: From Margins to the Centre-Addressing Exclusion and Invisibility, Dr. Kaveri Gill, Senior Programme Officer, International Development Research Centre (IDRC) said that women, tribal groups and dalits should benefit from the National Food Security Bill. She said that the National Food Security Bill should aim at reducing inter-group inequality as well as inter-generational inequality. Deeply embedded discrimination against certain social groups affects food justice and malnutrition. She asserted that legal rights cannot be a panacea for everything.

Dr. RP Mamgain, Director, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies (IIDS, and G Dilip Diwakar (IIDS) presented their paper entitled: Elimination of Identity based Discrimination in Food and Nutrition Programmes in India. RP Mamgain said that economic and social inclusion of dalits, tribals and other marginal groups is important. Land redistribution in favour of dalits is important. Dalits face discrimination in labour and other input markets. There are 98 different types of discriminations faced by dalits. Dalits face discriminatory, accessibility and availability problems. Children from Schedule Caste groups are 1.4 times malnourished as compared to children from other social groups. Incidence of malnutrition is higher among Schedules Tribes-STs (56.1 percent) and Scheduled Castes-SCs (50.6 percent) as compared to others (36.3 percent) as per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS). The HUNGaMA report tells that 42 percent of children are underweight and 59 percent are stunted. There are 3 different types of exclusion and discrimination faced by SCs and STs in Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) and Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) namely—the location of infrastructure, the nature of human resources managing the scheme at the grassroots level and discriminatory practices in providing the service. Location of the infrastructure facility helps certain groups and hinders access for other social groups. The ICDS and the MDMS have been criticized for irregularities, non-adherence to guidelines and malpractices leading to leakages of benefits to non-beneficiaries and complete denial of service to some target groups. G Dilip Diwakar said that capacity building of civil society organizations is vital for improving service delivery in ICDS and MDMS. He asked for monitoring, training and sensitization and ensuring quality of provisioning.

Amita Shah from Gujarat Institute of Development Research (GIDR, said in her paper: Priority Changes for Strengthening Women’s Role as Producers, Processors and Providers of Food and Nutrition that there has been feminization of agriculture in India. She said that India has recently been witnessing food inflation and changing employment scenario. In many parts of rural India, there is a huge churning going on, she remarked. Women have been major contributors to production, processing and provisioning of food and nutrition. According to recent estimates of the National Sample Survey (NSS), women contribute for 38.51 percent of total rural workers engaged in primary sector in 2007-08. According to the time-use survey covering six states in the country during 2000, women spent almost equal amounts of time on crop cultivation and allied activities. They receive payment for only 60 percent of the time they spend in agriculture, as a substantial part of their work is likely to be on family farms. In 2004-05, 36 percent of women farmers overall, and 39 percent among marginal landholding households, were counted as unpaid workers on family farms (NCEUS, 2010). Joint titles for married women may work. Expansion of negotiating space for women is essential. Agrarian crisis can be tackled through natural resource management and institutional support. The 12th Five Year Plan envisages a comprehensive approach that lays special emphasis on increasing productivity of foodgrain production on the one hand and promoting crop diversification on the other. Women have to play a larger role in steering the shift. Amita asked whether increased income from agriculture will address women’s as well as household food security. The link between increased income and increased food intake is getting weak. Access to health services, drinking water, the level of hygiene in living conditions and socio-cultural norms matter a lot in determining nutritional outcomes. She suggested that policies should incentivize land titles to women, women’s labour collectives and cooperative farming.          

Felix Padel (Institute of Rural Management Anand, during his presentation titled: Adivasis and Tribals-Their Land and Power said that fundamental injustice has been faced by the tribals. Adivasis constitute a population estimated at about 86 million or 8.4 percent of India’s population. Out of the ST population, as many as 10-20 million Adivasis have been displaced due to displacement since Independence. In Chhattisgarh, innocent tribals have been killed by security forces time and again. False encounters indicate gross violation of human rights. People still remember the atrocities faced by Soni Sori and Sodi Sambo. Fraudulent public hearings during land acquisition and shoddy environment impact assessments (EIAs) for mining have become common. The biometrical index prepared by National Nutrition Survey shows that 50 percent Schedules Castes and 60 percent Schedules Tribes are malnourished. Though Adivasis means indigenous people, in India the term Schedules Tribes is used officially for them and it was coined by the Britishers. The 5th Schedule of India’s Constitution affirms the non-alienability of tribal land as elementary rights. There are good laws like Forest Rights Act (FRA) and Panchayats Extension to Schedules Areas Act (PESA) but they are hardly implemented well. Adivasi Economics is firmly rooted in long-term symbiosis with local ecology, enabling tribal communities to live amidst biodiversity, and profit from it in their mix of cultivation, gathering and hunting, without destroying it or even depleting it. Adivasis have faced cultural racism in the form of displacement. Adivasi society is different from society under capitalism. Money is seen as compounding problems in an Adivasi society. The idea of starvation deaths has been used to justify aluminium projects in Orissa since the 1980s. Tribal Development Plans are rarely conceived and guided by Adivasis themselves. As indicated by P Sainath, tribal development schemes are prone to exceptional levels of corruption. Tribal movements are often seen as anti-development. Tribals believe that the more money comes in as a result of investment induced displacement in tribal areas, the more it leads to miseries. Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups like Baigas, Birhor, Korwa, Juang, Dongria Konds, Pauri Bhuiya etc. are facing cultural genocide and cultural racism, which are needed to be recognized. Land Acquisition law of 1894 and its eminent domain status need to be thrown out. There should be free prior informed consent in case of land acquisition. Public hearings shall not be manipulated. The new Green Revolution in the Eastern parts of India should be questioned. PSUs can extract minerals from tribal areas whereas private corporations cannot. But private corporations are working hand in glove with PSUs in such areas to extract minerals.                 

Presenting the paper entitled: Addressing Exclusion in PDS and ICDS, M Kumaran (Oxfam India) said that there are 5.07 lakh fair price shops for distributing foodgrains under the public distribution system (PDS). There is one fair price shop for 2388 people delivering nearly 86 tonnes of foodgrains annually. The ICDS is implemented through 12.41 lakh centres known as anganwadi centres (AWCs), each located in a habitation of 400-800 population. Despite being in the final year of 11th Five Year Plan, India is 1.5 lakh short of the targeted number of AWCs meant to cover at least 1.17 crore potential beneficiaries. Both the PDS and the ICDS suffer from top down approach in implementation. There has been exclusion of the community to mobilize and assert. Despite planning universal access under ICDS, only 8.37 crore children were officially covered against the targeted 15.88 crore children aged 0-6 years. In case of PDS, foodgrains for 25 lakh BPL households were not lifted from the godowns. Percentage of PDS foodgrains not reaching the consumers ranges from 24-54 percent. 50 percent of small farmers are excluded from the PDS due to identification error. There exists a poor monitoring system along with local elite capture over service delivery points. There is direct discrimination on the basis of caste, gender and religion. There is non-transparency on the part of service providers and monitoring bodies. There exists a minimalist and diluted accountability mechanism. The unique identity project empowers the bureaucracy and not the citizens. The National Food Security Bill should include landless labourers, dalits, tribals, female children, single women households, religious minorities, disabled and old and destitute people. The PDS needs to be universalized.                    

Prabhanjan Verma, IBN 7, told that every person has a right to food. The stark contrast between images of rotting foodgrains in godowns and faces of malnourished children and hungry people could convey the message quickly to the TV viewers as opposed to plain statistics–poverty amidst plenty. India has money to finance subsidy. The APL/BPL dichotomy is part of the politics. Centre does not entertain BPL figures given by the states. So the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) is being done to put a cap on the poverty numbers. Subsidy is currently going to the wrong set of people. States like Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh have tackled corruption in the PDS. TV journalists and media persons are not well trained in the areas of climate change and food security.  

During the 2nd and final session on 18th July entitled: Prioritizing the Agrarian Agenda in the era of Climate Change, Vijay Paul Sharma, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad acted as the Chair. He said that inflation is driven by high value agriculture. There is need for decentralized procurement with an emphasis on public-public partnership.

Dr. Swarna Vepa, Madras School of Economics, presented her paper titled: Defining India’s Role in Global Food Price Volatility. She said that food price inflation is an important issue before India and rest of the world. Speaking on the problems associated with global food price volatility, she said that high price leads to hunger and malnourishment of the poor in all nations and more so in the poor countries. Price signals lead to supply responses from the producers. Uncertainty in prices leads to uncertainty in investments in agriculture.  Food inflation may spread to other commodities. Food price rise takes away large chunks of the income from consumers and reduce demand for non-food items. Price rise leads to fall in overall GDP. Explaining the factors behind price rise, Dr. Vepa said that global food stocks were low a decade earlier when inflation occurred. There has been a rise in food demand from Africa and other countries due to rise in income which increased prices of rice and wheat. There has been rise in demand for animal feed as diets shifted towards animal based food in Asia. High oil prices led to use of biofuel. So agricultural land is increasingly being converted to biofuel and urban use. Price distortion due to healthy subsidies given by the developed countries to agriculture reduces the incentives to production by poor countries. The supply side constraints include rise in input costs due to increase in fertilizer prices, increase in labour cost and oil price hike. The financial crisis increased the supply of money, which led to inflation. Speculation and future trading leads to price rise. Globalization is bringing the domestic price closer to the world price. Therefore, there is no one cause behind inflation. There are lot many factors behind inflation. The puzzle behind food price volatility still persists. The charity work should begin at home and India should realize that its participation in global trade led to global price fluctuations. It should increase its domestic supply and minimize excess demand from global stocks. It should carefully implement the National Food Security Bill. India should improve the energy efficiency of food production. It should work towards removing global trade distortions so as to protect the Third World farmers. Farmers are enjoying only 20 percent of the hike in prices. The rest is enjoyed by those in the middle of the supply chain.

Dr. GV Ramanjaneyulu, Centre for Sustainable Agriculture,, said that Indian farmer is at the verge of extinction. He said that distribution of rainfall has changed and extreme weather events have become common. One could notice heat and cold wave, prolonged dry spells et al. Due to climate change, yield losses, crop losses and human and animal deaths are expected. The small and marginal farmers who constitute 70 percent of farming community are the worst affected due to ecological and economic crisis. According to the Census data, operational holdings below 4.0 hectares (ha) constitute 93.6 percent of all operational holdings in 2000/01, covering 62.96 percent of the operational area, or about 100.65 million ha in absolute terms. There has been a 0.6 degree C rise in temperature in the last 100 years and it is projected to rise by 3.5-5 degree C by 2100. The carbon dioxide concentration is increasing by 1.9 ppm each year and is expected to reach 550 ppm by 2050 and 700 ppm by 2100. The sea level has risen by 2.5 mm every year since 1950 while the Himalayan glaciers are retreating. Every 1 degree C rise in temperature reduces wheat production by 4-5 million tones as per a study by Indian Agricultural Research Institute. In India, 28 percent of the GHG emissions are from agriculture; about 78 percent of methane and nitrous oxide emissions are also estimated to be from agriculture. India should move towards ecological farming. Climate change plans of the Government won’t help. Business as usual cannot continue. The Green Revolution led to monoculture, increased usage of chemical fertilizers, heavy irrigation and heavy mechanization. Area under the production of cotton, maize, paddy and sugarcane is rising. 80 percent of production comes from a few genetic backgrounds. There has been a decline in biodiversity. Increased dependency on fertilizers is affecting soil’s nutritional status and depleting its organic matter. Large dams have contributed to 18.7 percent emissions in India. He said that price volatility in rice is lesser and it can be used for self-consumption by the producers. That is why paddy cultivation is considered safer. He asked for making new institutions for farmers.              


National Food Security Bill marks a paradigm shift to ensure food for all, claims Thomas, Newstrack India, 18 July, 2012,

Committed to food security bill: Thomas, The Hindustan Times, 18 July, 2012,

Standing on the threshold of Food Justice in India, Oxfam, 17 July, 2012,

‘India’s Food Bill can set example for rest of world’, The Hindu Business Line, 17 July, 2012,

In farmer's name by R Ramakumar, Frontline, Volume 28, Issue 06, 12-25 March, 2011,

How ‘rural' is India's agricultural credit? by Pallavi Chavan, The Hindu, 13 August, 2010,         

Solution worse than the problem: Targeting and the Food Security Bill, Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy,

Why the NFSA Will Not Ensure Nutrition Security, Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy,

Challenging Federalism: Centre-State Relations and the NFSB, Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy,

Hunger, Under-nutrition and Food Security in India, Policy Brief for Parliamentarians, Centre for Legislative Research and Advocacy,

Monday, July 16, 2012

Justice for Bathani Tola 1996-Punish the Guilty

On 16th April, 2012 the Patna High Court acquitted 23 people who were convicted by a lower court (i.e. Ara Sessions Court in May 2010) in the gruesome Bathani Tola massacre case, thus indicating travesty of the country’s criminal justice system. 21 dalits and muslims including women and children were butchered in broad daylight by the caste militia-Ranvir Sena in Bihar's Bhojpur district on 11 July, 1996. The main culprit, Brahmeshwar Singh, chief of the outlawed Ranvir Sena was murdered on 1 June, 2012 which led to the sudden flare-up in Ara. Supporters of BJP and upper caste Bhumihars went berserk following his death, damaging public and private property.

A National Convention entitled Justice for Bathani Tola 1996-Punish the Guilty was organized by 'Citizens for Justice for Bathani Tola' on 15 July, 2012 at the Constitution Club to commemorate the Bathani Tola anniversary in Delhi. It was held a day before the hearing of the petition in the Supreme Court against the Patna High Court verdict. The Convention was addressed by the survivors of the Bathani Tola massacre as well as students from Ara’s dalit hostel who faced ire from the supporters of Ranvir Sena and BJP after the death of Brahmeshwar Singh. A report on the witch-hunt of minority youth at Darbhanga was also presented at the Convention. 

Kavita Krishnan, Member of the Central Committee, CPI (ML) Liberation welcomed the participants of the Convention and introduced the young filmmakers–Kundan et al who created a documentary on Bathani Tola massacre. She recalled what the Ranvir Sena said about the killings: "We kill children because they will grow up to become Naxalites. We kill women because they will give birth to Naxalites."

Uma Chakravarti, noted historian said that a serious meeting has been held to ponder over the Patna High Court’s decision to acquit the Bathani Tola murderers. She recalled the Kilvenmani massacre in Tamil Nadu in 1969 in which a group of 42 striking Dalit (untouchable) village labourers (who were demanding for higher wages) were murdered by henchmen, allegedly sent by their landlords. However, those responsible for the murders were acquitted by the Tamil Nadu High Court later. After the reversal of the Sessions Court’s decision by Tamil Nadu High Court, the landlords involved in Kilvenmani massacre were released but some of them got killed in revenge attacks later.  

Naeemuddin Ansari an eyewitness to the Bathani Tola massacre and family member of the victims killed by Ranvir Sena said that the incident took place in broad daylight at 2.00 pm on 11 July, 1996 [See: Back to Bathani Tola-Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, Frontine, Volume 29, Issue 12, 16-29 June, 2012,]. Following the riots by Ranvir Sena and BJP supporters after the murder of Brahmeshwar Singh, Chief Minister of Bihar called a Sewa Yatra, thus, avoiding the atrocities done on dalits and muslims, he alleged. Though he applied for arms license in 2008 so as to protect himself from further attacks by upper caste militia, till date he has not received it.

Shabbir, a victim from Ara’s dalit hostel (Ambedkar Kalyan Hostel), said that Ranvir Sena and BJP supporters attacked dalit students at the morning hours after the murder of Brahmeshwar Singh-chief of Ranvir Sena. Bhojpur police was informed about the attack but the administration expressed its inability to help and instead asked the students to run away from the hostel. All the necessary items were stolen by the attackers. Locked rooms left behind were broken. Dalit students were beaten mercilessly. No water and electricity services were arranged by the administration after the incident.

Shivprakash Ranjan, a student of Ambedkar Kalyan Hostel and AISA supporter, said that the cycle-stand near the hostel was burnt and 40-50 cycles were destroyed completely. 3 bikes and a jeep were burnt by the Ranvir Sena supporters during the riot following Brahmeshwar Singh’s murder. Police asked the students to leave the hostel for 4-5 months. It seemed from the behavior of the police personnels deployed that they were siding with the attackers. Due to the intervention of AISA, the SDO could be met. From 11th June onwards, staying inside the hostel restarted and from 18th June police force was posted in the dalit hostel. The CM declined to meet the AISA leadership [Read: Attack on Dalit Hostels in Ara by Ranveer Sena Goons Exposes Nitish’s Secular Posturing-Shivprakash Ranjan,]. The SC/ST Welfare Minister Jitanram Majhi was also met by the AISA delegation. The District Magistrate refused to take any action and said that media cooked up the story of attacks on dalit students.

Retired JNU professor Tulsi Ram said that Bathani Tola has become a symbol of atrocities on dalits. It was retired judge Justice Sawant of the Supreme Court who said that law in India is not strong enough to punish the guilty. The justice system in India is hindu-ized. Chanakya’s arthashastra is too harsh on dalits and has provisions for the maximum amount of punishment for them. 80-85 percent of people who are hanged are dalits since they cannot afford justice. It is not external enemies but insiders who are responsible for murdering the countrymen. In BJP ruled states, human rights abuse is rampant for example Chhattisgarh [See: Human shield review after ‘mix-up’-Nishit Dholabhai, The Telegraph, 5 July, 2012,]. Economic empowerment of dalits has not taken place. A strange mixture of religion and violence could be noticed in the Ara attack on dalit students since both Ranvir Sena and BJP supporters took part in it. Anti-Buddhist wave got started in India by discovering newer Gods and Goddesses who were weoponized too. Such Gods and Goddesses acted as symbols of violence. People who believe in such Gods tend to be more violent. Dalits are attacked since they are the most vulnerable in the caste structure.

Retired Chief Justice of Delhi High Court Rajinder Sacchar mentioned about the Arwal massacre in which police opened fire on a peaceful mass meeting killing 23 and injuring dozens [See: A Fact Finding Report On Arwal Massacre,]. He said that during the last 25 years, India has not made much progress. It is, in fact, building a worst kind of society. There were many officials and political parties who denounced the murder of Brahmeshwar Singh. But when Bathani Tola incident took place not much public sympathy came into being. Justice Sacchar promised legal help to the families of the victims.

Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy from JNU said that in the Bathani Tola massacre both Indian Constitution and Social Justice were attacked. The killing of Chandrashekhar, a student leader from JNU, took place in a similar fashion in Siwan in March 1997. Victims of Bathani Tola have not yet received justice. Democracy in India can, thus, be questioned. Attacks on dalit students happened in a state whose CM says that he is with the lower caste. Despite the presence of such a CM, Ranvir Sena supporters dared to attack dalit students in Ara after the death of Brahmeshwar Singh. Those hanged are mostly dalits since they have no recommendations and they lack money to afford good lawyers. In India only the rich can afford justice. Naxalism grew as a result of social injustice. Those taking up the causes of dalits before elections have turned out to be traitors and they now support MNCs. He demanded that people’s representatives should visit Bathani Tola. Bad governance has spread across the country. Fight against injustice shall continue.

Prof. Nandini Sundar from Department of Sociology Delhi School of Economics congratulated the people for continuing their fight against feudalism despite getting a setback decision from the Patna High Court. She said that tribals faced a similar situation in Chhattisgarh.

Vineet Tiwari who was part of the PUCL group that wrote a report on Amousi massacre, which took place on 1 October 2009 spoke in detail about the incident [A Fact Finding Report on Amousi Carnage in Khagaria District,].

Simpson whose brother-in-law was killed in the Paramakudi massacre inside a police van said that the High Court of Tamil Nadu acquitted the murderers of Kilvenmani massacre that took place in 1969 due to lack of evidence. He said that in India dalits are victims of caste oppression. Economic status of dalits could not be changed despite bhakti movement. Their economic status has remained the same since centuries. Successive Governments had been against land reforms. He asked for successful land reforms, implementation of land ceilings along with land redistribution and joining of land cooperatives by beneficiaries of land reforms.    


Justice for Bathani Tola massacre victims demanded-Mohammad Ali, The Hindu, 16 July, 2012,

Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy by Anand Teltumbde, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVII, No. 22, 02 June, 2012,

Convention Demands for Victims of Bathani Tola Massacre, Sanhati, 2 May, 2012,

Ranvir Sena chief murder poses challenge to Nitish Kumar-Smita Gupta, The Hindu, 2 June, 2012,

No gentlemen in this army-Ashwani Kumar, The Hindu, 6 June, 2012,

Brahmeshwar Singh's murder: Bihar braces for retaliatory killings-Pranava K Chaudhary & Rajiv Nayan Agrawal, The Times of India, 2 June, 2012,

3 given death, 20 life imprisonment for killing 21 Dalits in 1996, The Times of India, 12 May, 2010,

Three get life for killing former JNU student leader, CNN-IBN, 23 March, 2012,