National Action Week – “GODAMO KE TALE KHOLO” : September 22-28

September 22, 2010

Update on the West Bengal Action on Godamo Ke Taala Kholo Abhiyan

September 30

Almost 10,000 people across eight districts protested against rotting food grains in FCI and State godowns in West Bengal. The protest was part of the ‘Godamo Ke Taalo Kholo Abhiyan’ a National program as part of Right to Food Campaign, demanding distribution of food for free or at subsidised rates to all the poor and vulnerable in the country, instead of letting grains rot. Another major demand from the people was to pass a comprehensive National Food Security Act.

With food stocks having reached a record level of 608.79 lakh metric tones, almost a third of the stocks are lying in the open under temporary cover. This year already 1.77 Crore MT has rotten and become unfit for human consumption alone.

Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), Shramajivee Mahila Samity, Udayani Social Action Forum, Centre for Advocacy and Research (CFAR), Shramajibee Samanvay Committee, Human Rights Law Network, and many more constituents of Right to Food and Work- West Bengal Network raised their voices in order to ensure that not a single grain is wasted, and implement the recent Supreme Court order on rotten food grains in godowns. They also brought into focus the appalling state of food schemes in the state, with special focus on ICDS, Mid day Meal and Public Distribution System (PDS). Awareness about the issue was created through distribution of 35000 pamphlets and 12000 posters, and we could observe a keen interest among masses.

Making the Godown as the symbol of the Right to Food campaign, people protested outside FCI and state godowns on 27th- 28th September. District-wise updates follow:

South 24 Parganas – More than 5000 people gathered outside FCI Godown in Baruipur, a charter of demands was presented to BDO, Baruipur. But, BDO refused to come out and address the people, claiming he was not a ‘public servant’.

North 24 Parganas – 500 people gathered outside FCI Godown in Barasat Hospital, shouting slogans. They later went to the District Magistrate’ office to submit the charter of demands who in turn directed them to ADM General. Protesting against this move of DM, people refused to go ADM, and continued with their protests outside DM’s office. After a lot of protests, DM agreed to meet and accept the demand charter, with assurance that a detailed meeting on the issue will follow.

Nadia – almost 1500 people came out to protest in front of the FCI Godown in Bhatjangla, Krishnagar. Later, they gave a deputation to the District Food Controller and the Manager of FCI Godown.

Burdwan – 1000 people protested in Kalna State godown, and deputation was given to SDO on 27th September.

Bankura – about 400 people protested in the Food Controller’s office in Schooldanga, Bankura clanking plates and drums demanding food for all. They met the Food Controller and submitted the charter of demands.

Paschim Medinipore – about 250 people gathered outside state godown in Belda. Deputation was given to Block Food Inspector.

Hooghly – in Pandua block more than 800 people participated, and charter of demands was given to Joint BDO, Pandua on 27th September.

Purulia – Quintals of rice were found rotting in state cooperatives in Puncha block where starvation deaths have also happened. A mass protest was held in Puncha Block, with protests also in Lalpur Gram Panchayat of Hura Block. More protests will follow in other blocks.

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UNLOCK THE GATES OF THE FOOD GODOWNS

PROTESTS OUTSIDE FCI GOWDOWNS (AND DISTRICT COLLECTORATES AND STATE SECRETARIATS)

DEMANDING FROM THE GOVERNMENT –
# DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD FOR FREE OR AT SUBSIDISED RATES TO ALL THE POOR AND VULNERABLE IN THE COUNTRY, INSTEAD OF LETTING GRAINS ROT
# LEGISLATION OF A COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT WITH A UNIVERSAL PDS AND ENTITLEMENTS FOR CHILDREN, OLD AND THE SOCIALLY VULNERABLE.

In light of the recent Supreme Court order to distribute food grains to the poor rather than rotting in the FCI godowns, we announce the “Godamo Ke Tala Kholo Abhiyan”, a week of action and protests in the state, from 22nd to 28th September. This will be part of National Action Week which will be held across the country on behalf of Right to Food Campaign, with participation from PBKMS, Udayani Social Action Forum and many other organisations in West Bengal. Padyatras, meetings and press conferences will be organised throughout the week.

Protests will be held at the following places:

# Bankura- Hebhirmore FCI Godown from 1pm onwards on 28th September

# Burdwan- Kalna 1 and Kalna 2 from 11am onwards on 27th September

# Hooghly- Pandua from 3pm onwards on 27th September

# North 24 Parganas- Barasat FCI Godown from 3pm onwards on 28th September

# Nadia- Krishnagar FCI Godown from 2 pm onwards on 28th September

# Paschim Medinipore- Belda FCI Godown from 1pm onwards on 28th September

# South 24 Parganas- Baruipur FCI Godown from 12pm onwards on 28th September

# Similar protests are planned in Purulia as well.

Please join us in large numbers.

Contact: Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity/NTUI- 9433627437 / 9433002064

Udayani Social Action Forum- 9932250024/9477590517

(https://sites.google.com/site/godamoketalekholo/home)

Poster and pamphlet in Bengali.

We demand the LEGISLATION OF A COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT with provisions for

· Government procurement of cereals (including coarse grains), pulses and oilseeds at remunerative prices, leading to increased production and availability of foodgrains and oilseeds.

· An expansion of decentralised procurement and publicly owned decentralised storage infrastructure

· Stopping corporatisation of agriculture and control of food markets by agribusiness corporations.

· A Legal Guarantee for a Universal and Inclusive Public Distribution System, with the complete removal of targeting through faulty BPL lists

· Nutritional security with per head monthly entitlements of 14 kgs of cereals, 1.5 kgs of pulses and 800 gms of oil

· Guaranteed nutritional support and social security to diverse vulnerable groups and children

· Strict measures of Transparency, Accountability and Penalties for non-compliance, with major reforms in the delivery system

· Food entitlement cards in the name of women

· Affirmative action for Dalits, Adivasis and other socially discriminated groups

BACKGROUND NOTE

The country is going through an unprecedented food crisis.  Two thirds of our women are anaemic, half our children are malnourished, and almost one-third of adult men and women have a low body mass index, our malnutrition rates are higher than in some of the war-torn countries of Africa and India ranks 66 out of 88 countries by the Global Hunger Index. Food is becoming more and more expensive. Food inflation has hovered around 18-20% in the past two years. The retail price of coarse rice increased from 9 rupees per kilogramme to 17 rupees per kilogramme at Bhubaneswar in Orissa and from 12.50 rupees per kilogram to 22 rupees per kilogramme at Coimbatore in Tamilnadu. Similarly the retail price of Atta (Wheat flour) increased from 12 rupees per KG to 20 rupees per KG at Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and from 10 rupees per KG to 16 rupees per KG at Ludhiana in Punjab. [1]

We also have declining food availability. At the beginning of the economic reforms in India in 1991, cereal availability was 469 gms per capita per day. By 2008 , this had declined to 375 gms per capita per day, depriving each person of about 100 gms of cereals per day. The situation for pulses, a major source of proteins for most Indians, has been worse, where availability has halved  since independence from about 70 gms per capita per day in the late ‘50’s to less than 35 gms per capita per day in the last five years. For the poorest parts of the country and the poorer sections, where coarse grains were a major source of food, the decline has been even sharper. In the same period when rice and wheat availability declined by 21% and 13% respectively, the availability of coarse cereals declined by almost one third (33%).[2]

While on the one hand we have hunger, spiralling food prices and declining food availability, on the other hand, our so-called welfarist Government has aggravated the situation by becoming a hoarders of food grains. The stock holdings of cereals by the Government as of June 1st 2010, have reached a record level of 608.79 lakh metric tonnes (MTs). This is the second highest stock since 2002 and three times the amount required as a buffer reserve.[3]

From a figure of 343 Lakh MTs in 2006-07, the total procurement of rice and wheat increased to reach over 560 Lakh MTs in both 2008-09 and 2009-10. This was a welcome development as it provided the Government with the unique opportunity to provide more food at subsidised rates to the poor, as well as provided a moribund agriculture with some relief. However, the Government wasted this opportunity, as allocation and off-take of food grains continued to be low during this period. In the four year period from 2006-07 to 2009-10, the average annual off-take was 409 lakh MTs. This compares poorly with the off-take during the previous four year period of 2002-03 to 2005-06 when the average off-take was 451 Lakh MTs per year. The result of high procurement and low off take has been hoarding and stock piling of food grains by the Government, aiding and abetting speculative price rise in the open market. [4]

Stocks now far exceed the storage capacity of the Food Corporation of India and other State agencies. As a result, nearly 176.83 lakh MTs of food grain is currently lying in the open across the country. This is the single largest stockholding kept in the open, in the many decades since Government of India has started decentralized procurement from farmers. The norm for storage in the open under tarpaulin cover fixed by FCI is a maximum of one year. However, in just the State of Punjab, close to 1.36 lakhs MT of wheat, which was procured in 2008-09, is still lying in the open. This is the third monsoon that this stock is weathering and all available official reports suggest that up to a third of this grain i.e. close to 50,000 MTs is already unfit for human consumption. Similarly, State agencies in Haryana are holding 31,574 MTs of food grains procured in 2008-09 and 18.90 lakh MTs of food grains procured in 2009-10.  A significant quantity of these food grains are likely to go waste if urgent measures are not taken by Government of India to release these stocks to poor immediately. [5]

Hidden behind this crisis is the Government’s effort to privatise storage infrastructure. On 31st March 2004, just before UPA 1 took over, the total Government owned storage capacity was 367 lakh MTs, while capacity hired from the private sector was 170 lakh MTs. At the end of UPA 1, on 31st March 2009, Government owned storage capacity had reduced to 321 lakh MTs, while private hired godowns had increased to 248 lakh MTs.[6] In addition, the Government of India has specifically instructed FCI to not create storage infrastructure while offering huge subsidies to private players to create their own godowns. To make it even more lucrative, the Government has offered long term leasing guarantees to such companies.[7]
As far as the hungry and poor go, the Government has been far less generous. The allotment of food grains (rice and wheat) made by the Government of India to the State Governments for the rationing system as well as through open market sales is lower at 496.41 lakh MTs in the current financial year (till July 19th, 2010) than in the last financial year, when it was 620.09 lakh MTs.[8]

In these circumstances we demand –UNLOCK THE GATES OF THE FOOD GODOWNS AND GIVE THE FOOD TO THE POOR.
In the short term we demand DISTRIBUTION OF FOOD FOR FREE OR AT ANTYODAYA PRICES TO All Landless, Agriculture Labourers, Marginal and Small Farmers, Rural Artisans/Craftsmen, Slum Dwellers, Daily Wage Earners In Rural and Urban Areas, Dalits, Tribals, Single Women Headed Households, Homeless, Children Or Terminally Ill Persons Or Disabled Persons.
We urge that all these households receive the full quota of 35 kgs for Rs. 3 without any restriction on the numbers of such households.

This single action of the Government will have a three-fold effect-
         it will immediately provide the hungry with food and fight off malnutrition;
         it will reduce prices of cereals in an overheated market;
         it will free storage space for further procurement for the coming season, providing farmers in loss making agriculture with an assured market.

In the long term, under no circumstances (as suggested by the Planning Commission , the Prime Minister and even the Supreme Court) can the solution be the removal of people from agriculture or a reduction of procurement to only the amounts we can store , or a replacement of food grains in the rationing system with cash transfers.

We demand instead the LEGISLATION OF A COMPREHENSIVE NATIONAL FOOD SECURITY ACT with provisions for
         Government procurement of cereals (including coarse grains), pulses and oilseeds at remunerative prices, leading to increased production and availability of foodgrains and oilseeds.
         An expansion of decentralised procurement and publicly owned decentralised storage infrastructure
         Stopping corporatisation of agriculture and control of food markets by agribusiness corporations.
         A Legal Guarantee for a Universal and Inclusive Public Distribution System, with the complete removal of targeting through faulty BPL lists
         Nutritional security with per head monthly entitlements of 14 kgs of cereals, 1.5 kgs of pulses and 800 gms of oil
         Guaranteed nutritional support and social security to diverse vulnerable groups and children
         Strict measures of Transparency, Accountability and Penalties for non-compliance, with major reforms in the delivery system
         Food entitlement cards in the name of women
         Affirmative action for Dalits, Adivasis and other socially discriminated groups

Last but not least, in a country with chronic hunger amongst large sections after 64 years of independence, the first call on all natural resources, including land and water, must be for food. Forcible diversion of land, water and forest resources away from food production must stop.

[1] Retail Price Monitoring System at dacnet.nic.in
[2] Agricultural Statistics at a Glance 2009, Directorate of economics and Statistics (Department of Agriculture and Cooperation), Government of India
[3]“ Report on the Excess Food Grains in the Godowns of the Food Corporation of India and the State Civil Supplies Corporations” submitted by Supreme Court Commissioners to Supreme Court on 10th August 2010
[4] All India Off-take figures 2002-03 to 2010-11, Food Corporation of India
[5]“ Report on the Excess Food Grains in the Godowns of the Food Corporation of India and the State Civil Supplies Corporations” submitted by Supreme Court Commissioners to Supreme Court on 10th August 2010
[6] Annual Reports of Department of Food and Public Distribution, Government of India
[7] “Scheme for Construction of Godowns for FCI-Storage Requirements Through Private Entrepreneurs 2008”, Food Corporation of India
[8]“ Report on the Excess Food Grains in the Godowns of the Food Corporation of India and the State Civil Supplies Corporations” submitted by Supreme Court Commissioners to Supreme Court on 10th August 2010