November 01, 2015

No Protein for the Poor

DAL prices have continued its upward trend causing real suffering for the people. Tur Dal is now more expensive than chicken with its retail price at Rs 220 per kg. Prices of arhar and urad are double what it was in October 2014. The prices of pulses is not just a problem of price rise, it is also of food security as the bulk of the population derive its protein requirements from pulses. As against the recommended daily requirement of 50 to 60 grams, current availability of pulses is less than 30 grams per day. Instead of being the poor man’s protein, it has become the rich man’s luxury. It is true that inadequate rainfall has contributed to a fall in pulses production domestically. But that cannot account for the galloping prices – a 12 percent decline in production has led to a hundred percent increase in prices. The steep rise in prices of pulses is a result of wrong polices and not the vagaries of the monsoon. The Modi government is fully responsible for this vicious attack on people’s food security. India consumes about 23 million metric tonnes of pulses while it produces 18-19 million metric tonnes per year. The deficit is bridged by imports from abroad. This year more imports by India has led to international prices increasing too. The government has not taken steps to boost domestic production of pulses. The MSP for pulses like tur and chana should be hiked substantially. That alone is not enough as there is no procurement done for pulses by the FCI. Without procurement, the farmers cannot realise the MSP. So this has to be undertaken. The government does not maintain a buffer stock for pulses. In its absence, a small shortfall in production leads to speculative stocking and black marketing. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has announced that the government will create a buffer stock for pulses. But this will help only the importers and traders in the international market. A buffer stock has to be based on domestic procurement on a MSP within India. Pulses are grown in non-irrigated and rain-fed areas of the country, in areas inhabited largely by tribal people. Therefore, tribal farmers and rain-fed areas will have to be the focus in India’s drive for self-sufficiency in pulses. There should be priority for developing high yielding varieties suitable for local agro-climate zones. At present, the import of pulses by MNCs and big traders has not eased the situation. They have used the imports to stockpile pulses and wait for prices to rise. Over 75,000 tonnes of pulses have been seized from hoarders across the country. These are stocks piled up by MNCs and large retail chains. The imposition of stock limits and dehoarding were implemented too late and half-heartedly. For over a decade, the CPI(M) and the Left have been demanding that food and essential commodities be prohibited from futures trading. The speculation in pulses has become rampant with the shortfall in production in 2014-15. The BJP government has to ban pulses in forward trading. The people have got a bitter taste of the government’s bungling and complicity in the shooting dal prices. With this, the Modi government’s boast of curbing price rise has been badly exposed. Editorial-2 Don’t Use IAF THE Modi government and the BJP state government are moving towards using the Indian Air Force against the Maoist armed squads in Chattisgarh. This is the meaning of the stand that the IAF will conduct offensive operations in retaliation or self-defence. The security forces involved in the anti-Maoist operations so far have been the state police and central para-military forces like the CRPF. The Indian army has not been deployed to counter the Maoists. The IAF was introduced in 2010 to give support through its helicopters ferrying personnel and the wounded personnel to bases. So far the IAF helicopters have not returned fire when they have been shot upon. This is being changed. According to RK Vij, the Addl. Director General of Police, Chattisgarh, three IAF helicopters were used for a strafing exercise in the Bijapur area. The use of IAF helicopters to conduct offensive operations such as strafing with machine guns fitted in gunships will mean declaring war on the people, in this case the adivasi people. In the forested terrain, the helicopter gunships will not be able to detect the Maoists from innocent civilians. Moreover, the Maoists are constantly moving amongst the people in the tribal hamlets, thus making the adivasis, the prime target of attack. It will result in massacres. In order to prevent a situation where the IAF helicopters come under fire, the best way is to not deploy the IAF for the support activities of the police forces in Chattisgarh. This step taken by the UPA government should be reversed. Earlier, the chiefs of the armed forces had strongly disapproved of proposals to involve their forces in anti-Maoist operations stating that the army should not be used against a section of the Indian people. The Modi government must not sanction the use of the IAF or any other wing of the armed forces in Chattisgarh. Even where the army is deployed, as in Jammu & Kashmir, the IAF has not been used for any armed action. The armed forces of the country should not be placed in a position where they have to conduct offensive operations against the people in the heartland of India. (October 28, 2015)