Hunger manifests itself in so many forms, be it farmers' suicide, decline in per capita availability of food grains, children surviving without a drop of milk, 70-year-olds pleading for a job in scorching heat in the hinterlands, but the Centre has no money for universal public distribution system, said P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor, The Hindu.
In his talk on ‘Slumdogs Vs millionaires: Farm crisis and food crisis in the age of inequality' organised by Indian School of Social Sciences in the city on Friday, Mr. Sainath said: “This meeting is for three hours. In three hours, 51 Indian children die of malnourishment and 6 farmers commit suicide and the Centre writes off Rs.171 crore in tax to corporates.”
To implement universal PDS on the lines of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the Centre needs Rs.90,000 crore. This year, the corporate income tax exemption was Rs.80,000 crore. The exemption from tax to corporates has grown every year from 1991. This is apart from the subsidy by way of SEZs, loans, credits, power and water. The Centre, however, has no money for universal PDS, he said. The Prime Minister who was passionate about the (Indo-U.S.) nuclear deal and who threatened to resign in Parliament for the deal has no passion or even the inclination to perform as a Prime Minister to feed the hungry.
On rising inequality, Mr. Sainath said the city of Mumbai's latest tourist attraction was a monument built for one family at a cost of $2 billion of a man tipped to be the richest man in the world in another five years. Half of the same city's population lived in slums and 76 per cent who lived in formal houses lived in one-room tenements, he said.
Three official committees have clearly revealed that rural poverty was much higher and that 836 million in the country earned less than Rs.20 per day. As much as 86 per cent of all Dalits and Adivasis and 85 per cent of all Muslims were in the grip of poverty. The farmers who produce food have no food security. While the monthly per capita expenditure of a farm household was Rs.503, the family spends 60 per cent of it on food. The farmers have no control over seeds, pesticides, fertilizers, power, water or the prices. “This is hunger,” he said.
The suicide of the farmers was only the consequence of a crisis, the outcome, not the origin. The corporate highjack of farming and the wrong agricultural policies of the Centre and State governments are the reasons, Mr. Sainath said, urging the Indian intelligentsia to reconnect with the masses to safeguard democracy.