A workshop on Right to Food titled ‘Koi Bhookha Na Soye’ was held at the Gandhi Peace Foundation on 14th and 15th of May, 2010.
Following organisations acted as co-organisers:
Akhil Bharatiya Antyodya Sansthan; Antyodaya Chetana Mandal, Orissa; Bharat Jan Vigyan Jatha; Bihar Lok Adhikar Manch, Patna (Bihar); Business Community Foundation; CECOEDECON; Centre for Human Responsibilities; Gandhi Peace Foundation; Global Gandhi Forum; Harit Swaraj; Help Age India; Him Niti Abhiyan-Himanchal Pradesh; Himalaya Niti Samwad-Uttarakhand; Himsamukt Bharat Campaign; Hind Khet Mazdoor Panchayat, Purnia (Bihar); Indian Committee of Youth Organization; Indo Global Social Service Society; Jeevan Maanglya Trust, Rajkot, (Gujrat); Koshish, Patna (Bihar); PAIRVI; Pragatisheel Samaj, Muraul (Bihar); Samajik Arthik Shikshan Evam Vikas Kendra, Paschim Champaran (Bihar); Samta Gram Sewa Sansthan, Patna (Bihar); SANSAD; South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED); Socialist Front-Delhi; The Indian Council of Gandhian Studies, (Kerala); and Women Coalition Trust.
During the first session, the coordinator of the workshop Shri Bhuvan Pathak informed that the meeting was convened at a short notice. A few days back, The Hindustan Times reported that 50 tribals died in Orissa due to chronic hunger (see: Chronic hunger kills 50 in Orissa district by Priya Ranjan Sahu,
http://www.hindustantimes.com/Chronic-hunger-kills-50-in-Orissa-district/Article1-512211.aspx). While the growth rate of the Indian economy has been touching 9-10 percent per annum, people are dying due to starvation and hunger. When Ram Manohar Lohia was alive and active during the 1960s, he heard of a person dying due to hunger in Delhi. The issue was raised in the Parliament. But nowadays sensitivity towards such issue is missing since this news of 50 people dying due to chronic hunger in Orissa wasn’t raised in the Parliament. In Uttarakhand, hunger is not at all considered as an issue. But prevalence of anemia is high among women in this state. Similarly, in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, hunger and malnutrition are prevalent. But nobody cares about them. The marginalized communities are increasingly becoming victims of hunger and destitution. The Government of India’s methodology to count the number of deaths due to hunger is ridiculous. Even if a single grain is found in the stomach of a person during the postmortem, it will be declared by the Government that the person has not died due to hunger. These are pertinent issues that cannot be ignored. The Government must be held accountable for hunger related deaths.
Swami Agnivesh (Bonded Labour Liberation Front, http://www.swamiagnivesh.com/aboutbmm.htm) gave the example of Bhagat Singh who taught us the true meaning of freedom. True freedom comes when people do not go to sleep without eating food. India is not free from hunger despite being independent since the last 60 years. On one hand, India is witnessing Forbes magazine (See: http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/18/india-100-richest-india-billionaires-09-wealth_land.html) reporting on the rise in the number of billionaires of Indian origin. On the other hand, despite high level of food production, hunger related deaths are happening. Nearly, Rs. 58,000 value of foodgrains gets rotten annually. Every second child in India is malnourished. Swami Agnivesh shared his experience of Dantewada, Chattisgarh where he found that despite the below poverty line (BPL) households receiving rice and wheat at Rs 1/ kg from the State Government of Raman Singh, Maoism is getting stronger. Every day 7,000 children die in India due to hunger and malnutrition. The media seldom reports on hunger and poverty. Swami ji quoted Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara, at one time the Bishop of the Brazilian city of Recife, who used to say: “When I give bread to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” Foodgrains produced is increasingly being siphoned off to feed pigs or manufacture biofuels. If labourers get the right wages, most of the problems will be solved. There is need to understand the neo-liberal agenda that is responsible for making the people poor. People are now more interested to know about Mukesh and Anil Ambani. Bureaucrats are not interested in fighting for the right to food as they are well paid and they have high purchasing power.
Prof. DM Diwakar (Director, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, http://www.ansiss.org/AdminSupportStaff.aspx) said that the question of hunger comes from a deeper concern. There is a need to look at the macro picture. The Global Hunger Index is a composite index based on three variables: 1. the proportion of population that does not consume an adequate level of calories; 2. the proportion of underweight children under five years of age; and 3. the mortality rate among children under five years of age, expressed as the percentage of children born alive who die before they reach the age of five. In the Global Hunger Index (2008), India ranks 66th among the 88 countries surveyed by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It comes below Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon, and slightly above Bangladesh. The ranks of the different states in relation to the GHI range from 34th for the state of Punjab (whose Indian State Hunger Index-ISHI score places it between Nicaragua and Ghana) to 82nd for Madhya Pradesh (whose ISHI score places it between Chad and Ethiopia). Ten of the 17 states have an ISHI rank that is above India’s (66th)—these states are relative outperformers (at least relative to the Indian average). Even the best-performing state in India, however—Punjab—ranks below such countries as Gabon, Honduras, and Vietnam.
Prof. Diwakar informed that more production does not mean end to hunger. There is need for proper distribution as well as purchasing power. The technology of production must be appropriate. Since majority of the population is comprised of small and marginal farmers, the purchasing power needs to be enhanced. There are schemes existing in India for distribution such as the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Public Distribution System (PDS) etc. Inefficiency and corruption are rampant in such government schemes. Right to food is a basic human right of all the Indians. In India, producers of food i.e. farmers are committing suicides. Cultivation is no longer a profitable venture. The entire planning process has failed. The farmers can no longer rely upon the Government. One can question Indian democracy for failing its farmers and citizens. There are contradictions in poverty estimation. Prof. Arjun Sengupta (www.nceus.gov.in) claimed that about 77% of Indian population was stuck below the average per capita expenditure of Rs. 20/- per day. The NC Saxena Committee (constituted by the Rural Development ministry) was asked to recommend criteria for identification of BPL families in rural India. It held the view that 50% of India should be brought under the ambit of the poverty line. As per the revised estimates by the World Bank, the percentage of people living below the $1.25 a day decreased from 60 percent in 1981 to 42 percent in 2005. The Suresh Tendulkar Committee report submitted in December 09 estimates poverty in India at over 37 per cent (2004-05) and not at 28 per cent as calculated earlier. The natural resource base is shrinking. The availability of common property resources (CPRs) has gone down, which is adversely affecting the livelihood of rural people. Surplus land available with India has reduced from 6 crore acre (as reported by the Mahalanobis Committee) to 79 lakh acres without proper redistribution. Although the Green Revolution funded by Rockefeller Foundation helped India to become self-sufficient, India later faced lot of diplomatic pressures from the United States. Hence food sovereignty is must for India.
Prof. Ritu Priya (Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, www.jnu.ac.in) said that malnutrition is a social problem which has a social dimension. Almost half the Indian children are malnourished as reported by the National Family Health Survey-III. But in reality this could be close to 90 percent. Indian children are becoming victims of stunted growth. It is not the case that only women are anaemic. Almost 40 percent of the males in India are anemic. People who eat less (for coping with hunger) i.e. say one meal per day are never counted as hungry. It is difficult to enumerate hunger. Inflation has caused poor people to switch over to less quantity of food. If a proper survey is done taking into account the coping up strategies undertaken by people, then the prevalence of malnutrition in India may go up to 60 percent. In Chattisgarh, prevalence of hunger is rising. The Food Security Bill proposed by empowered Group of Ministers (eGoM) has reduced the allocation of food grains under the Public Distribution System (PDS) from 35 kg per household per month to 25 kg per household per month. The eGoM does not seem to be serious about the food security concerns. The economic policies adopted and implemented by the Government are anti-people and anti-poor in nature. The system of the Government should not be discarded as it is widespread. But it should be reformed. The Aanganwadi scheme has collapsed. The social service schemes of the Government are inefficient. The government takes too much time to declare districts as drought affected, which affects the villagers. The middle-class is not bothered by food security concerns.
Dr. Dipa Sinha (Right to Food Campaign, http://www.righttofoodindia.org/) informed about the ‘Roji-Roti Adhikar Abhiyan’ that has been in existence since the last 8-9 years. She informed that in May 2001, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), filed a public interest litigation (PIL) with the Indian Supreme Court, arguing that several federal institutions and local state governments should, inter alia, be responsible for mass malnutrition among the people living in the states concerned. On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court passed an interim order that provides for the conversion of eight food security schemes into entitlements (rights) of the poor. These include the Antyodaya Anna Yojana, the National Old-Age Pension Scheme, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, the National Mid-day Meals Programme (NMMP), the Annapurna scheme and several employment schemes providing food for work. Of the eight schemes, the most significant is the order directing all state governments to provide cooked mid-day meals in all government schools by January 2002. A closer look however reveals the blatant flouting of the Supreme Court Order. Although the Supreme Court has asked for universalization of the ICDS and the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS), the state governments have not taken enough steps despite the Central Government allocating funds for such schemes. Matters have made progress only on papers.
Dr. Dipa Sinha informed that the Congress Party before the Parliamentary elections held in 2009 promised to provide 25 kg of rice/ wheat per household per month under the Right to Food. The concept of food security should include: production and distribution. Nearly, 80 percent of the cultivators are small and marginal farmers. Farming should be made profitable. Procurement is presently done from states like Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and a few Southern states. But procurement must be made universal and local food grains like millets must be procured. There is enough foodgrain production happening for the universalisation of the Public Distribution System (PDS). Universal PDS is better than the targeted PDS. The targeted PDS is subject to inclusion and exclusion errors. Displacement due to land acquisition and mad rush for industrialization must be stopped. Apart from foodgrains, legumes/ pulses and cooking oil must be supplied in the ration shops. Crèche facilities must be made available for the children of working women. Maternity entitlements must given. Pensions for the aged should be arranged. There should be additional food entitlement for people affected by disasters. Media is more interested in targeting of the PDS, which needs to be checked.
Ms. Kiran Shaheen (Media Action Group) wanted to know whether it is a criminal offence when somebody dies due to hunger. The judicial system has a role to play in deciding whether to consider hunger related deaths as criminal offence. Even if post mortem is done, something or the other will be found in the stomach of the deceased. So nobody will be found to have died of hunger as per the law.
During the second day of the workshop, Mr. PM Tripathy (President, AVARD) shared his experience of working with the Asian Development Forum. Among the rural people, he found, food security has been the first priority across the Asian countries. Gandhi ji placed a lot of hope on Gram Panchayats. According to Gandhi ji, the Gram Panchayats at the village level should work for the provision of food security, clothes, safe drinking water etc. Food availability per capita has been going down over the years. There are various terms like: food security, food self-sufficiency, food sovereignty that have emerged over time. Villages in India should be made food secured. Women should be in charge of food security. Micro-level planning is needed. Food storage needs to be decentralized.
Shri Harsh Mander shared his experience as a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court on the Right to Food (http://www.sccommissioners.org/). He illustrated before the audience the pain and agony faced by the poor women heading single families. These women ask their children to start practicing going to sleep without taking food so as to cope with hunger. Children born in female-headed households are found to eat half-digested foodgrains present in cow dungs, and leftover foodgrains spread over the 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. Four out of ten Indians are found in the Forbes’ list of top 10 rich billionaires. Yet level of hunger and malnutrition is so high in India. There lies the contradiction. Growth in agricultural production has gone down during the 1990s but it is still higher than the growth rate of population. Half the population of Indian children is malnourished. There is need for food laws to be enacted. Food security of the single mothers and the urban poor need to be ensured. Soup kitchens or langars can be made for the urban poor and the homeless. Improvement in agricultural technology is important for food security apart from distribution. People are dying at an early age due to hunger and malnutrition. Shri Harsh Mander mentioned about the Caring Citizen Initiative that is working for the poor and hungry in Andhra Pradesh. He explained the role played by Lula da Silva, President of Brazil in implementing the Zero Hunger Project. Shri Harsh Mander also spoke about the noted South African photographer Kevin Carter who took a photograph in which a vulture was waiting for a child (in Sudan) to die so it can eat it. This picture which got published in the New York Times shocked the entire world. No one knows what happened to the child not even the photographer who left the place as soon as the photograph was taken. Three months later he committed suicide due to depression (see: The Life and Death of Kevin Carter by Scott MacLeod, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,981431,00.html).
Ms. Amita said that agrarian crisis has to be dealt first before ensuring food security. Quoting P Sainath, rural reporter from The Hindu, she said that nearly 8 million farmers have left farming. Around 2 lakh farmers have committed suicides between 1997 and 2007 (Nearly 2 lakh farm suicides since 1997 by P Sainath, http://www.indiatogether.org/2010/jan/psa-suicides.htm). The middle-class is more interested in the Indian Premier League (IPL) rather than the below poverty line (BPL). The Agriculture Minister Shri Sharad Pawar is interested more in cricket rather than food production. The ground water table is going down in Gandhi ji’s own Gujarat.
Prof. DL Sheth (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, www.csds.in) said that under the new paradigm of thinking, the poor are often blamed for their own poverty. To do something for the poor comes with a feeling of hate. Hunger is a policy issue. India has moved away from the days of PL-480 to the days of self-sufficiency. There is need for change in the consciousness level. No longer can one think of ending hunger by changing the production relations. In the past, hunger deaths took place at Kalahandi, Orissa where agricultural production has been good. The co-operative sector is under attack from neo-liberal globalization.
Prof. VB Singh (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, www.csds.in) said that hunger related deaths are not happening due to lack of resources. There is lack of accountability in schemes such as NREGA (http://www.nrega.nic.in/netnrega/home.aspx) and Antodaya Anna Yojana. He demanded that a part of the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Fund (MPLAD- http://www.mplads.nic.in/) or Member of Legislative Assembly Local Area Development Fund (MLALAD) should be allocated for ensuring that nobody goes to sleep hungry.
During the session on media, Shri Shrawan Kumar Garg (Group Editor, Dainik Bhaskar) said that a lot of time is wasted by the media on useless debates on reservation on the basis of caste or religion. But not much time or space is given on how hunger can be mitigated. The term development often means school buildings, education and roads. It does not include important things such as food security, water and agriculture.
Shri Ram Sharan Joshi (Senior Journalist) asked us to differentiate between hunger and malnutrition. He informed that despite 55 million tonnes of food grains available as buffer stock, starvation deaths were reported in the early 2000s. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was not keen to send the emergency food supply to hunger affected regions as it feared this could distort the prices. That is why we find today that when there is excess production, foodgrains are either dumped in sea or burnt to ashes. When NDA was in power, it said that people died due to malnutrition and not hunger. Before that when NDA was in opposition, it claimed that people died due to hunger and not malnutrition. The question is why 1.2 billion people in the world are still poor. One must ask why 2 lakh Indian farmers have committed suicides between 1997 and 2007. The media has not been sensitive and responsible towards rural issues. NGOs, civil society organizations and political parties can work out to sensitize the media at the local level. The Constitution of India can help us in preventing hunger related deaths. If rural India is not taken care of, globalization will fail. This is because rural India is an untapped, potential market. Social and political empowerment is needed. Pamphlets on right to food, education, heath etc. should be distributed among grassroots reporters and social workers.
Shri Dev Dutt (Senior Journalist) said that the Fourth Estate has disappeared. The advertisement managers decide how much space has to be allocated for news. Media cannot be sensitized because it has become too much professional. It is no more a Fourth Estate. Earlier, India used to be poor. Poverty can be linked to politics but hunger cannot be linked to politics. Thinking about training media persons would be a futile exercise.
Shri Chandan Srivastawa (Inclusive Media for Change, www.im4change.org) informed that when it comes to mainstream commercial media then one may say that news is a product, reader is the consumer and media is the industry. In order to raise revenue, the media relies on advertisement. Media reaches out to those who have the purchasing power. However, a responsible media person or reporter should make his news creatively taking into account the demand of his readers. S/he should try to bring out his work either as report or feature or may be as an interview. The media would be responsible to consider somebody’s work as a product/ commodity. It is difficult to understand a reader’s mind whether a story will be liked or not. Yet there should be no end to one’s endeavour. He asked for linking the wages of workers employed in the unorganized sector to the consumer price index so that they don’t suffer the brunt of inflation.
Shri Shambhu Ghatak (Inclusive Media for Change, www.im4change.org) said that higher purchasing power do not necessarily lead to better nutritional outcomes. This is because lack of safe drinking water may affect body’s metabolism. Gender discrimination affects the distribution of food within the household. Expensive food doesn’t always mean nutritious food. Obesity is fast emerging as a major health problem in the United States as well as in India. The PDS needs to be reformed as it is plagued by corruption and inefficiency. Organic and natural farming should replace green revolution technology. One should not confine himself only to calorie-based definition of food security. Micro-nutrient deficiency needs to be looked at and addressed properly. There is need to move towards balanced diet. Right to Information Act and the media can play crucial roles in ensuring transparency.
Shri Kishan Kaljayi said that it is difficult for media to address issues like hunger and malnutrition because media is used to serve glamour and advertisement industry. There has been an attempt to end creative thinking in Hindi newsprint. There exists wage disparity within the newspaper industry.
Shri Satish Pednekar informed that rural news do not create sensation.
The resource persons from various states who represented various civil society organizations and NGOs made the following points:
Rajasthan: Aanganwadi centres remain close for days. There is high level of corruption in ICDS.
Orissa: Industrialization and land acquisition are adversely affecting the livelihoods of rural farmers and agricultural production. Memorandum of Understanding (MoUs) between the Government and the corporates are leading to eviction of poor people away from their land.
Delhi: There is no official account of how many persons died due to hunger and starvation. People in slums who are going to be evicted are living in danger. Infrastructure facilities in resettlement colonies are poor. The state of PDS is dismal. There is high level of corruption in issuing of ration cards and commodities.
Madhya Pradesh: Industrial policies adopted for Bundelkhand and Bagelkhand regions are adversely affecting agriculture. Fertile land has been given to industries.
Gujarat: The common property resource base is shrinking thus affecting the society at large. Land reforms should be given the priority so as to ensure food security.
Bihar: Food available in the nature earlier is no more available at present. The state of hunger is on the rise. There must be local level facilities for foodgrain storage such as grain banks. Religious bodies can play a crucial role in ensuring food security.
Manipur: Low irrigation facility is affecting agriculture. Due to recent political problems, prices of food grains, sugar and LPG cylinders have gone up.
A resolution was passed during the Koi Bhookha Na Soye workshop on 15th May, 2010 condemning the brutal repression on peacefully agitating men, women and children of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti at district Jagatsinghpur, Orissa. The villagers were sitting in a dharna in Balitutha of Jagatsinghpur district protesting against forcible acquisition of their agricultural land by the Government of Orissa for handing it over to Korean company POSCO for constructing a steel factory. More than 1000 armed police lathi charged and fired on the people injuring 100 people and also burnt their tents and around 100 shops nearby. The resolution demanded for cancellation of MoU with POSCO (see: 100 injured in police action at Posco-India project site by Prafulla Das, The Hindu, 16 May, 2010,
(Prepared by Shambhu Ghatak and Chandan Srivastawa)