Is the answer to India’s hungry stomachs, chikki?

The food security bill is the next big social welfare item on the UPA menu as it hurtles towards elections. The idea is unexceptionable, to use India’s surplus and rotting foodgrains to feed the poor, hungry and malnourished. And the hope is that like NREGA, free food and direct cash transfer will win a third term for the Congress-led coalition.

Except that food is a state subject, except that the opposition isn’t playing ball, except that it can get all very messy. Also, in a large and diverse country with differing tastes every mile of the way, there is the question of what to give the needy. The economist Ashok V. Desai suggests chiki or chikki, what passes off as kadalekaayi mithai in Karnataka.

He writes in The Telegraph:

“We need an eatable that is durable, light and solid. The only such Indian eatable I know is chiki. It is common in Maharashtra; as trains run between Bombay and Poona, young men cling to the windows and sell packets of chiki to passengers. The chiki they sell is peanuts or sesame seeds embedded in gur (unrefined sugar).

“One gets variants of chiki all the way north; in Delhi, they are a seasonal ware sold in winter by rehriwallahs (hand-cart pushers) who sell murmura (parched rice), chana (parched gram) and bhel (a mixture of dry edibles mixed with chillies, chutney, sweetened tamarind water, etc).

“A round biscuit of chiki with water is an adequate, nutritious and balanced meal in the absence of normal food. It can be standardized into an industrial product.

“The government should subsidize — that is, give a negative excise duty to — this standardized chiki. To do so, it will have to license chiki factories; it should ensure that they employ the most efficient, mechanized technology. As long as they meet the standards of technology and quality, there should be no limit on the number of factories; the number of hungry poor will limit the production.

“If the government ensures the elimination of hunger by chiki, it will no longer have to buy millions of tons of foodgrains, give out billions in bribes, and bring prosperity to trillions of mice. And it will have a readymade solution for famine anywhere in the world; all it will have to do is to buy a few thousand tons of chiki and ship them to Bottomlessland.

“Maybe the rest of the world will develop a taste for some brands of chiki, and it will become a sizeable export. It will go towards bridging India’s yawning payments deficit. The finance minister should persuade his boss to take this idea seriously.”

Read the full article: Guidance for the robber

Image: courtesy Taste a Bite