In between all this hue and cry about the food security bill, something came in my mind and that needs an address. First of all, it’s really amusing to me that Congress party has suddenly started thinking of the poor hungry Indians. They couldn't think of it in 65 years of independence, and now they are even ready to roll over the parliamentary discussions on the bill and get an ordinance passed.
It’s all clear for what reason the bill has become such a need of congress. The anti-incumbency and corruption charges have somewhat afraid the congress party. The party won 206 seats in the last elections and now it doesn't even seem to cross the 120 mark.
At this juncture, it becomes important for congress party to get this bill passed and cash on votes. How much will it work? The time would tell, and certainly the voters.
Let's leave that topic and now focus on what I have got to say. I won't be going into the financial problems that bill could possess for the Indian economy, lets only focus on something we are omitting.
What a man needs to survive? Food, Water, and Oxygen
Oxygen is available in plenty; Food is already being subsidized and if Congress has its way it may be subsidized further, but what about Water? Clean drinking water? Which the people living in Race Course road and Akbar Road in Delhi get 24 hours and in abundance.
Let's talk water first:
A report released in February about a food survey conducted by government organization, National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO) in 2009-10, showed the rural households those are not getting two square meals a day were at 1 percent, while that figure for urban households were about 0.4 percent.
The survey shows that about 10 million of Indians (1 crore people) do not get enough to eat, which is undoubtedly is a national shame. What's more shameful is 100 million Indians (10 crore) do not get access to clean drinking water. That is even a bigger shame, won't you think?
Economist Arvind Virmani said in times of India; "Analysis of the state-wise 2004-05 National Sample Survey and the 2005-06 National Family Health Survey data led to the conclusion that the most important cause of malnutrition in India was the abysmal state of public health in terms of sanitation, pure drinking water and public knowledge about the importance of cleanliness…and of course nutrition”
This clearly proves India has more malnourished people than hungry people. The malnourishment is because of many factors which go beyond 'just food'. Sanitation and clean drinking water, which the international community really count on is not a big concern for Indian Government. I still see government schools, even hospitals, colleges with not apt drinking water facilities and toilets. Malnutrition in India compared to malnutrition in other developing nations like Indonesia and China have a big difference.
India clearly needs to spend much on water and sanitation facilities. At least before we jump ahead with our so called votebank oriented big reforms
Now the question arises, after so many critical negative indexes why doesn't the government think of water or sanitation problems?
The answer is simple, because it won't go much noticed in papers. India is such a nation, where visible development always looses to paper development.
The government can easily increase its subsidy to go with the food bill, but to provide sanitation and water facilities to the people; it will have to build drinking water systems and modern sanitation systems across the country. That has to be 'BUILT', which can't just be shown on papers. The first requires subsidizing, while second requires building. The first required budgetary provisions while second require technical and professional help from the top to the bottom. The first can be worked out with the current Public Distribution System (PDS) while second one requires a professional machinery to keep an eye. The first one is a customary nature of our political class while the second one requires hard changes in governance.
The eagerness to spend more on food subsidy than to use money to install sanitation and drinking systems, captures the eyes of voters more, and becomes a vote-catcher for the political hub, specifically UPA. The Manmohan Singh government has spent approximately 11 Trillion on subsidies since 2004. Subsidies have least benefited the poorest of the people, but they have rather supplied to the interests of some in power. The best example is subsidies in fuel, in diesel to be specific, which have benefited even the rich SUV owners.
The union government has spent 2 trillion for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme (MNREGA). No doubt it has benefited the rural poor. But a question comes, wouldn't it have been better if the same money was spent on rural roads and irrigation projects, which the government thinks foreign companies would do when they run into a joint venture through FDI (a more controversial topic). Perhaps, the government has been not keen to invest in capital expenditure, perhaps the politics and vested interest doesn't allow it.
The Indian policies have at large carried a political message, with overwhelming preference to subsidies over public goods. The league of getting votes is given more importance than long-term beneficial programs. The economists of Indian government love to ignore social economics, but try finding way to implement what the high command demands.
Food security bill will be debated in the parliament, and might get passed. If it doesn't then ordinance is always an option with the UPA. Not to forget, an ordinance on food security bill will be the biggest insult to the democratic setup of the nation as ordinance are issued in some special cases, not for political benefits.
If some bill can get passed for votes, if food can be subsidized, there can also be a day when the government decides to lift the subsidy calling it 'reform'. Think, and understand the political benefits the UPA wants to get from the food security bill, and chose what's more necessary for the majority. Also, don't forget the PDS we have, is dipped into corruption from head to toe. A scheme so big, with so much funding, will only buck the pockets of bureaucrats and their political brothers.