It exposes the government’s apathy towards the people, says Right to Food Campaign
The record export of foodgrains at a time of widespread hunger and distress due to COVID-19 exposes “the government’s apathy towards the people”, according to the Right to Food Campaign. The advocacy group has called for the universalisation of the public distribution system (PDS) for at least six months, noting that the quantity of exported grain could have been used to provide 25 crore people with rations for a year.
The surge of COVID-19, spread to rural areas and lockdowns in most parts of the country have led to severe economic distress, especially among informal sector workers, said the Right to Food Campaign’s statement, issued on Monday. It said the situation was worse than in 2020, due to the large number of households now dealing with illness and high healthcare expenses on top of a year of job losses and declining wages.
The Centre’s relief scheme, PMGKAY, only provides additional free grain for two months for those who already have ration cards. The food security crisis facing informal sector workers, many of whom do not have ration cards, has been “completely invisibilised”, said the statement.
“The government’s apathy towards people has been thoroughly exposed by the fact that this year has seen record exports of foodgrains.” Noting that over 13 million tonnes of non-basmati rice and more than two million tonnes of wheat were exported in 2020-21, the Campaign said this could have been used to give 5 kg grain per month to 25 crore people for a year. In fact, rice was exported at ₹27 per kg, lower than the FCI’s economic cost of ₹37 per kg, it said.
Foodgrain stocks in FCI’s warehouses stand at a record high of 100 million tonnes. “It is becoming quite apparent that the government does not care about filling the stomachs of the hungry and is happy to rather export the grains or use them for other purposes [like it was done for ethanol production last year],” said the Campaign.
Currently, about 80 crore people are covered under the PDS and receive 5 kg of subsidised grain per month. Under PMGKAY, an additional 5 kg is provided free of cost. The Campaign demanded that these benefits are universalised for at least six months, given that the pandemic’s effects are long lasting, so that those in distress without ration cards can also find relief. It also called for 1.5 kg of pulses and 800 gmsof cooking oil to be distributed under the PDS.
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