The Story That Won’t Make Prime Time News: Food Insecurity

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This is a story that won’t air on the nine o’clock news. According to reports in a few regional language publications (yes, they still have The Spine), the Union is recommending a hike in the pricing of Rs. 7 per kg for Priority Households for rice, wheat, and cereals sold via the National Food Security Act (NFSA) (PHH).

The Food Ministry has reportedly been advised to raise the price for goods sold to the poorest of the poor under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana by 1 per kilogram by NITI Aayog. According to reports, the Ministry submitted this for the Union Cabinet’s consideration.

This takes me to the topic of this week’s column: food insecurity.

Two years have passed since the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) to provide additional food subsidies to the poor. The scheme came in six-month cycles and was extended for the sixth time in March, with its term ending this month.

Since then, access to sufficient food has not improved. Thus the program has to be expanded. Starting with inflation, Retail inflation is still around 7%, much higher than the RBI’s alert level. Food goods now cost more for consumers. Even last month, rural inflation was more extraordinary than urban inflation. In addition, industrial output has decreased, suggesting a decline in employment and a lack of consumer demand. Not to mention that the rupee is weak compared to the dollar.

We’ve all heard that India fell from 94th to 101st out of 116 nations on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2021. We also listened to the ostrich-in-the-sand statement from the Women and Child Development Ministry, which said: serious methodological issues” and the FAO’s methodology was unscientific.

Other sources, nevertheless, also present comparable figures. In India, food insecurity affected 4 out of 10 people from 2019 to 2021, according to the “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” report released this year by 5 UN agencies. Over one-third of all severely food, insecure people live in India alone.

The world’s events this year have done little to alleviate hunger. Due to the interruption of wheat shipments from these two nations, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in a crisis in world food security. At the time, India’s Prime Minister asserted that we would feed the globe. However, a heat wave this year that was made worse by human-induced climate change wiped out the wheat harvest. India’s public wheat purchases decreased 56 percent, from 43 million tonnes in 2021-22 to 19 million tonnes in 2022-23. India also banned wheat exports earlier this year to protect itself from falling domestic wheat stocks.

The public distribution system has already been obliged to rely increasingly on rice distribution due to the drought-caused shortfall in wheat output.
80% of India’s rice is cultivated during the Kharif season.
The Union government’s food secretary revealed this month that there are concerns that India’s rice output would be 10–12 million tonnes short due to a decline in the paddy-sowing area caused by a lack of rain.
The government has outlawed broken rice export and levied a 20% levy on the export of particular rice types, and paddy prices have increased by 8%.

In the near term, climate-related changes cannot be stopped, but the Union must protect citizens’ access to food. The data indicate that the government is more than capable of accomplishing this. As of July 1, the Union has 4.7 crore tonnes of foodgrains in stock; however, just 2.44 crore tonnes would be needed to extend PMGKY for another six months (based on the last extension). The previous PMGKY extension cost the government’s coffers Rs. 88,000 crore, less than the 1 lakh crore in income lost due to the corporate tax cut in 2019–20.

Under the Khadya Sathi and Duare Ration programs, several states, like Bengal, offer free rations with doorstep delivery. However, a decision by the Union government to raise grain prices under the NFSA will have a disastrous effect on our most vulnerable residents. The Union administration has done little to curb rising prices and inflation. We’ve heard that the Union Cabinet will not dismiss the note but will prolong the program. Gain the “written brownie points” by all means. We won’t hold it against you. Because of hunger, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav cannot be observed.

In April, the Union Government planned to export 3 million tonnes of wheat. The following month, a new notification was issued prohibiting grain export in May. Confused? Incompetent? You decide.

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