‘If they can’t eat roti, let them go and eat boti’

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: As I was walking with my hot upma plate at the UNI Canteen in Delhi, who do I notice sipping a cup of coffee looking in the general direction of nearby the Planning Commission but Yojana Singh, the Ace Planning Expert (APE).

What luck! Here was a chance to find out how they are going to eradicate hunger from our country.

As we settled on the stumps of some chopped-down trees in the open park, I asked: “India has slipped two places further to 67 out of 84 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2010. In fact Sudan, North Korea and Pakistan fare better than us. Does that not worry you, Mr Singh?”

“Worry? No way. The poor in India are responsible for this bloated figure in the index.”

“I didn’t get you.”

“More and more hungry poor people have started eating well. Our people in rural areas are eating as if there is no tomorrow. This has created unprecedented pressure on the commodity prices and hence there is inflation.”

I  thought it was down right rude of the APE to make such caustic remarks on our rural populace.

“Wht are you suggesting, that the rural hungry shouldn’t eat at all?”

Arrey Bhai! When did I say that? I am only quoting President George W. Bush who once blamed the poor in China and India for eating more meals in a day, thus raising grain and cereal prices in America. Dubya found that he couldn’t afford jam and butter spread for his bread and pretzels for evening tea anymore. It’s all simple see-saw in world economics; you push it down here, it goes up in USA and elsewhere.”

“Mr Singh, this year 13.5 lakh metric tons of food grains were allowed to rot in the open for want of storage facilities. Despite bumper crops, millions of children still go to bed without a  proper meal. What was the Planning Commission doing all these years?’

Dekho bhai, we had to attack the problem of availability of seeds, water for irrigation, fertilisers, etc. This alone took us some six five-year plans. Thanks to M.S. Swaminathan and Norman Borlaug for the Green Revolution, and Dr Verghese Kurian for the White Revolution, which put us on a path of continuous growth of food grains and milk. But we didn’t have any revolution for storing food grains and milk, you know.”

“No revolution in storage of food grains?”

“That’s right. We knew how to grow but nobody taught us how to store. So we decided to store in  the open in  places where it has not rained over the last few years. Our planning was excellent but nature was against us as it rained  all through the year.  That’s why the grains started rotting after the rains. Sheer bad luck. Kya karen?”

Great planning, I must say! The Supreme Court had to rebuke your agriculture minister for refusing to distribute even the rotten grains free of cost.”

“With all my due respects to SC, what do they know of the economics of distribution of grains? We have middle men who have to be engaged all the way until it reaches the poor, and middle men don’t come free. We have to pay them to distribute grains even if it is through ‘Rajiv Gandhi Mufth Dhanya Vitharana Samstha’ or ‘Indira Gandhi Ghar Ghar  ke liye Gehu Pahunchana Nigam’.”

“You are saying you would rather pay the middle men than distribute free to the poor?”

“I am not saying that. All I am saying is that this is how the economics in food operate.”

“Mr Singh, some estimates say over 5,000 children die every day due to malnutrition in our country. This was also discussed by the Millenium Development Goal (MDGS) of the UN Summit in its meeting in September.  Why are we not doing something at least with respect to children? Why is it there is less and less consumption of grains every year?”

“The consumption  of food grains maybe coming down, but it may be more and more children must be consuming milk, vegetables and fruits.”

“This looks like the modern version of what Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XIV, said to the French people, ‘If they can’t eat bread, let them eat cake!’  Can you do something to stop this trend of massive deaths due to malnutrition?”

“‘Of course! Children are our greatest asset. I am not saying this! Pandit Nehru, I believe, used to say such things. We intend starting a programme covering lakhs of children across the country to give them an egg every day so that they get enough protein in their diet. We will be calling this, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Rashtriya Bachhonke Poustika Ahaar Ande Vitharana Karyakram.”

“Good you have at last something for children.”

“But funds are not available. They have all been diverted to CWG 2010.  Even, Rs.170 crores of funds allotted as pension for disabled persons and widows was diverted to CWG this year as their budget shot to Rs 70,000 crore. I will see what I can do,” said APE Yojana Singh of Planning Commission.