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INDIA: Country rotten with rotting food grains

On August 19, it was reported that around 8,500 kilograms of wheat was found rotten in a wagon that was lost in seven months back. The train containing 110,000 kilograms of wheat was then on the way to reach the ration shops (fair price shop) in Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh, a district, which is predominantly occupied by tribes. It is one of the areas in which the AHRC has regularly exposed the seriousness of child malnutrition and discrimination since 2009.

On August 19, it was reported that around 8,500 kilograms of wheat was found rotten in a wagon that was lost in seven months back. The train containing 110,000 kilograms of wheat was then on the way to reach the ration shops (fair price shop) in Khandwa district, Madhya Pradesh, a district, which is predominantly occupied by tribes. It is one of the areas in which the AHRC has regularly exposed the seriousness of child malnutrition and discrimination since 2009.

This is not the only news of a similar nature and it does not appear to have happened by mistake. The Minister of Food and Agriculture Mr. Sharad Pawar admitted in the parliament last July that more than 11,700 tonnes of rice and wheat amounting for INR 6.86 crore (USD 1,462,527) were found damaged in storage facilities of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). News articles highlight various data regarding rotten food grains in several states such as Punjab, West Bengal, and Gujarat. However, Mr. Pawar said that the amount of damage was an exaggeration.

In contradiction to Mr. Pawar’s statement, it is revealed that more than one billion tons of food grains were damaged in FCI storage according to the Right to Information query filed by Mr. Dev Ashish Bhattacharya in January 2010. The reply to the query also exposes the fact that for last ten years between 1997 and 2007, more than 10 millions tonnes of food grains including rice, wheat, paddy and maize were damaged in FCI godowns. This situation is reminiscent of the scene ten years ago when the Chief Minister of Rajasthan complained to the Union Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution that lakhs of tonnes of grains were sitting rotten in the FIC godowns and were allegedly going to be dumped in the sea to make space for the next crop. Just before this, the Supreme Court of India had made an order on right to food.

Minister Mr. Pawar suggested a comprehensive plan to create almost 15 million tones of storage space implying that the reason behind the grain rotting is the lack of storage facilities. On the other hand, the FCI suggested exporting the grains as animal feed at lower price to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal to avoid further waste. However, it is also discovered that most of the FCI depots are not fully utilized. The question is therefore to know: why then have these grains been rotting here and there. More importantly, why is the government authority closing its eyes to it?

Some views have been expressed to explain the causes of the rotting. The rotten grains could be sold out to the commercial sectors of liquor production. Others suggest that damaging important amounts of grains damaged may help maintaining high prices in the market. In any case, the FCI implementing a Minimum Support Price (MSP) that aims to ensure remunerative prices to the farmers as well as reasonable prices to the consumers fails to provide the grains for the poor who starve. The government certainly fails to supervise it.

While people found 300,000 tonnes of rotting grain in an open field in Madhya Pradesh in late July, the New York Times on August 14 published a story of two children suffering from severely acute malnutrition in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. It is also in this district that the AHRC had revealed in January 2010 that within two months 28 children who died of malnutrition.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the major states procuring both rice and wheat in India according to the data by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, which means the state produces a surplus of rice and wheat. Whereas, the state is ranked third of 28 states in the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), following Bihar and Jharkhand. The study shows that the poor living in Madhya Pradesh experience higher intensity of poverty than people living in the DR Congo, although the percentage of people who are multidimensionally poor is slightly higher in the DRC. In addition, the analysis clearly highlights that out of ten indicators, nutrition is the indicator that contributes the most to the higher poverty index of Madhya Pradesh. The poor in Madhya Pradesh are deprived of their right to food and of their right to be free from hunger, the most fundamental factor in surviving as a human being in spite of surplus of food grains.

Nevertheless, the state governments always claim that they do not have sufficient food grains to distribute to the poor under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) and consequently the earmarked rice and wheat has been around 25 kilograms per month instead of 35 kilograms as stipulated in the Supreme Court Order.

The Minister Mr. Pawar said that the government has taken action to suspend some of the officers and that the investigation is going on. Someone needs to be suspended, investigated, and punished. Someone is corrupt and negligent. However, how can this chronic social disease and national crime be cured and charged? How will the Ministry guarantee that the same situation will not happen next year? While many people all over the world are worried about malnourished children in India shouting 'stop hunger', the government of India still does not pay attention to it nor takes more immediate and substantial step.

16 years ago, the photographer Kevin Carter who got a Pulitzer Prize for a Feature Documentary committed suicide reportedly condemning himself for taking a photo of a little girl starving in Sudan instead of taking her immediately to the hospital. After taking photos of the little girl, he indeed did take her to the hospital. It is felt that the Government of India does not have that shame and self-criticism for its national crime, and even a systemized plan to overcome it.

The Supreme Court of India again gave an order to immediately distribute the food grains to the poor while the Ministry refused to do so. With or without order from the Supreme Court, it is a duty of the state to prevent starvation and hunger and ensure food security at home. The Supreme Court orders on food security and hunger since 2000 till today reflects the fact that the government authority is not concerned about starvation deaths of the children and further has no willingness to make the country free from hunger, which is the first target of the Millennium Development Goals.

The AHRC strongly urges the government authority to carry out its duty by distributing the food grains to the poor and it is further required for the civil society to monitor the distribution system.

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