E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The Ace Political Expert (APE) was coming out of the Gandhi Krishi Vignana Kendra (GKVK) campus in Hebbal after attending a seminar. He was surrounded by delegates who held samples of food grains grown across India, in small, neatly packed, airtight ziploc covers.
After his guests left, APE and I went into the canteen.
“So you have become quite an expert in wheat and paddy,” I started off while sipping hot ‘Cothas’ coffee.
“Anybody can become an expert and go on to become a member of the Planning Commission. I am not saying this, It’s Kamal Nath, minister for roads and highways, who thinks so,” retorted APE.
“Which is why, perhaps, despite bumper crops we don’t have enough godowns or silos to store food grains in our country while millions get little or nothing to eat. Isn’t it shameful?” I asked as I held the samples of wheat he had kept on the table.
I was as angry as Muttiah Muralidharan was on Bishen Singh Bedi.
“When a country gives importance only to cricket rather than food grains, farmers suicide and malnutrition deaths, these things are bound to occur. Next, I won’t be surprised if you blame our agriculture minister Sharad Pawar for this,” APE responded.
“Every year the planning commission holds a series of meetings for ‘Budget Estimates’, ‘Revised Budget Estimates’ etc. Have any of their Members ever bothered how the country will store the food grains?” I demanded.
I think I was shouting like a town crier with a voice which had shades of Arnab Goswami in it.
“Cool it kanaiah, Ramu! We are not in a Times Now debate. The planning commission only doles out funds for seeds, fertilisers, etc. Once in a way Montek Singh Ahluwalia may put his hand out of the window in Yojana Bhavan to check if it is raining. They are neither concerned if there is drought or bumper production nor in its distribution. They can’t be bothered whether there are godowns built in the last 60 years.”
“Who then is responsible? What about Food Corporation of India?”
“The FCI chief is already over- burdened to decide whether he should make all-purpose godowns or specialised godowns for different grains like wheat, rice millet etc. He is also seized with the idea whether he should construct the costlier silos or multipurpose godowns as in Punjab where they stack whisky and let the wheat rot in the open. Known for their strong economics, Punjabis stack fast-moving items like liquor than wheat.”
“What are the States doing in this regard? Don’t they have the responsibility of feeding their starving people?”
“Yes, they have. That’s why they are sending their entire MLA lot to foreign countries on a ‘study’ tour to understand how they grow, store and feed their people. Karnataka under H.D. Kumaraswamy sent its MLAs to China. B.S. Yediyurappa is sending the whole lot from Vidhana Soudha to Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore to study their agricultural culture in full detail.”
I was getting nowhere.
“Doesn’t the ministry of food and agriculture own responsibility in this regard at all?”
Without knowing, I had come back to square one.
“Who says they don’t? Since lakhs of tons of wheat had become inedible for even animals, to pacify hungry stomachs and those bordering on malnutrition, the minister sent some officials on a junket to quickly negotiate a price and import wheat. Never mind we paid double the international price, but didn’t we solve the food shortage problem?” concluded APE.
I could do was stand gaping.