Prices of food items like wheat, pulses, oil and vegetables have shot through the roof and a large section of people are unable to afford even essential food items.
While many explanations have been offered for this alarming rise in prices, these do not tell the whole story. It is said that globally, there is a reduced availability of food grains in relation to demand this year, for two main reasons – the diversion of acreage to cultivation of bio-fuels and the drought in Australia. But what these facts hide is that rise in global prices have their basis in the speculation in the world’s largest commodity markets in the US and elsewhere. Globally, finance capital has seized on the commodity markets, because food prices were on a rising trend, while real estate and stock markets were down. The shift of finance capital to commodity markets and commodity futures has resulted in increase in food prices as high as 100% within a year.
Hiding behind these explanations, the Indian government has declared that very little can be done in the face of this external situation impinging on Indian conditions and have asked people to be “patient” and tighten their belts. While it has announced certain necessary ad hoc measures such as ban on exports of wheat and a ban on futures trading, they are far from sufficient in changing the situation in favour of the people. The government has announced these measures more to make a show that it is taking some action, and to cover up its failure on this front.
What is necessary for government to do is to take charge of planning for production, procurement and distribution of food. The government of the day is duty bound to ensure that the right to food is not violated. It must ensure the availability of essential food items, in adequate quantity and quality, and at affordable prices for all members of the population.
Successive Indian governments have not only failed to ensure this, they have moved in the opposite direction especially with the second phase of economic reforms. The government withdrew from procurement of food grains and left it in the hands of private players. Big foreign and Indian corporations have moved into what is now profitable “agri-business” where the motive is not to make available grains and pulses to the consuming population but to appropriate surplus from trade through hoarding, black marketing, forward and futures trading.
Food is a vital human need, not a commodity from which to make private profit. Private enterprises must not be allowed to pursue private profits by trading in food; there should be no scope for speculation. The central and state governments must take full monopoly control over wholesale trade within their respective territories.
by Secretariat of AIC, LRS