Food For All
Session 3

At the beginning of the evening session, Shri R. K. Mishra welcomed Shri L. K. Advani and Shri Pranab Mukherjee, who had joined the seminar in the after-noon. He also informed the participants that Shri Sangma, who was to chair the session, came up to the venue, but had to leave because he was urgently needed in the Lok Sabha. Shri Chandra Shekhar had conveyed that he was delayed because of the sudden illness of his wife, and he would join the seminar a little later.

For the sake of Shri Advani and Shri Mukherjee, and for others who had missed the earlier sessions, Shri Mishra summarised the background of the seminar. He recalled the issues raised in the Centre’s book “Annam Bahu Kurvita: Recollecting the Indian Discipline of Growing and Sharing Food in Plenty”. He also informed the parti-cipants of the deliberations of the dharma-sadas of the acharyas at Shri Tirumala; and briefly described the dis-cussion that had taken place since the morning.

Shri M. D. Srinivas presented a brief English transla-tion of the messages received from Shri Kanchi Kamakoti Peethadhipati Jagadguru Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswati Swamiji, Shri Pejawara Adhokshaja Mathadhisha Shri Vishweshatirtha Swamiji and Shri Tridandi Shrimannarayana Ramanuja Jeeyar Swamiji. The revered Acharyas constitute the Acharya-Sabha of the Centre for Policy Studies. We have reproduced the messages at the beginning of this report.

Before the beginning of the Valedictory Session, Shri Mishra invited brief interventions from some of the participants who were scheduled to speak in the earlier sessions, but whose presentations had to be deferred because of paucity of time. These included: Dr. Prem Vashisht, Shrimati Uma Bharati, Dr. Jayshree Sengupta, Shri S. Gurumurthy and Shrimati Madhu Kishwar.

Dr. Prem Vashisht
Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University

Dr. Vashisht said that the subject of production and distri-bution of food was vast and complex, but he would focus on a few issues.In brief, he made the following points:

First, that, as the agriculture minister had pointed out in the morning, food is more than merely foodgrains. As far as foodgrains are concerned, the experts believe that even now we produce enough to suffice us up to the year 2000, and perhaps even up to 2006-7. Therefore, the impression that we are a food-deficit economy is not correct.

Second, we have to pay attention not merely to the quan-tity of food, but also the nutritional value of food. Having enough foodgrains to eat is not the same thing as having enough nutrition. In India, even those who have enough to eat remain malnourished. We have 40 percent of the popu-lation below the poverty line, who perhaps do not get enough to eat. However 65 percent of the children below the age of five are said to be undernourished. Which means that those who have access to food are also not providing their children with proper nutrition. There is a lack of un-derstanding about the nutritional value of different foods.

Third, having enough food physically available at a place does not guarantee that people shall be able to eat it. Eco-nomic access to food is an entirely different matter. You may have huge food stocks, but the poor may not have enough money to buy. Therefore, when we think about food for all, we should probably think in terms of generat-ing employment for all.

Fourth, it is important to have the infrastructure for movement and distribution of food. Today when the central government makes available a certain quota of foodgrains, the poorer states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Orissa find themselves unable to lift the quota. The infrastructure and administrative machinery in these states are in such a bad state that they are unable to make use of the sub-sidised food that the central government makes available.

Fifth, the money being wasted in the public distribution system can be much more effectively applied to providing supplementary nutrition for children. Estimates indicate that such direct supplements can help in eliminating the scourge of malnourishment of children from the country. And, this requires no additional monetary commitment from the central government.

Finally, the regional imbalance in agricultural develop-ment has to be looked into seriously. Our dependence for foodgrains on a few regions, like Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, is extreme. In these areas cultiva-tors are quick to respond to economic signals. Soon they may begin to shift their lands from foodgrains to economi-cally more lucrative commercial crops. That shall certainly make our food situation precarious. We should therefore pay attention to raising productivity in food-deficit areas.

Shrimati Uma Bharati
Bharatiya Janata Party

Shrimati Uma Bharati made her presentation in Hindi. It is impossible to reproduce the exquisite fluency of her prose. Below we give a somewhat free and brief English translation of her speech. She said:

When I was asked to participate in this seminar, I had proposed that I should be excused from speaking; instead I should be merely informed about the action programme that the seminar arrives at and I would happily perform my role in that. I am not a thinker, I am more of a doer. I shall certainly do whatever is expected of me in the great task of eradicating hunger from the face of mother India.

The problem of hunger is such that I cannot help being sentimentally involved in it. There must be many others like me. I have personally experienced what it is to be hungry. Up to the age of seven I lived a life that brought me face to face with hunger every day. In my village, during the famine of 1966-68, I was made to learn the value of food. I experienced for myself the level of destitution and helplessness to which hunger reduces a human being. I have seen hunger; and of course, later I have also seen affluence. By the age of eleven, I had access to a chauffeur-driven car and a personal assistant. But the pangs of hunger that were etched on my mind at the age of seven have never been erased. Whatever I do and think today seems to be influenced by that experience.

It is a matter of controversy as to how many people in India are malnourished, and how many die of hunger. It is however certain that at least half our population suffers from insecurity regarding food; half of us are never sure whether we shall get our next meal or not. We have heard this morning that the average availability of food in India is perhaps the lowest in the world. And, when we talk of average we include the abundance of the richest also amongst the total. What an ordinary Indian gets is necessarily much below the average of India.

If we want to overcome the situation where over half of the Indian people are constantly worried about their next meal, then we shall have to pay attention to two aspects. First, we have to use the available resources, knowledge and technology to increase production of food. This is essential. It is equally important to reawaken our religious urge to share, so that available food is well utilised and each one of us takes the responsibility to ensure that nobody within his or her knowledge or care remains hungry.

Indian people have a natural tendency to care for others, to share what they have with others. Harishchandra and Dadhichi, who gave their all for others, still set the ideal for the Indian people. In Shrimad Bhagavad-Gita Shri Krishna has said that those who cook for themselves alone, eat in sin. When we eat for ourselves, without taking out the share of others, then what we eat is not food, but congealed sin. In the third chapter of Shrimad Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna asks Shri Krishna about the way to reach Him. Shri Krishna says that one reaches Him neither by engaging in action nor by giving up all action; only those who act without attachment to the fruits of their acts, those who engage in yajna, are the ones who reach Him.

Action undertaken without desire, action that takes into account the share of the whole universe in what we earn, action that proceeds from a sentiment of care and concern for all of universe, is yajna. Eating too becomes yajna, when we eat after sharing. Therefore, I believe that if all our religious places are so organised that whoever comes there, rich or poor, can receive food with dignity, then the problem of hunger shall be solved. It already happens in the Gurudwaras. If our religious leaders give a call for similar feeding arrangements to be made at all religious places, then our objective shall soon be achieved.
Nothing can work without involving religion; without dharma nothing works. In the fight against hunger, we have to use both our technological skills to produce enough food, and our dharmika sentiments to ensure that everyone is fed. In this struggle, we have to marry the sky and the earth, as Shri Aravinda said. We have to invoke both our skills of material production and the moral force of our dharmika people.

Let me give you an example. We have all heard of Kalahandi and Bolangir; these two districts of Orissa are often in news because of the great hunger that keeps stalk-ing the people there. Incidentally, these are also the dis-tricts where earth yields precious stones like cat’s-eye. This year when there were reports of starvation deaths in the area, the prime minister said that we are willing to send the necessary supplies there, but the state government there does not have the infrastructure to distribute what we send. We have heard the same story from the union minister of agriculture this morning, and from Dr. Prem Vashisht just now. But, I was able to take and distribute truckloads of food in that area.

The fight against hunger cannot be won by talking about mere technical matters. If we begin to depend merely on expert technical advice we shall be able to achieve nothing. From the expert’s point of view, Dr. Vashisht has just informed us that there is enough food in the country, there is nothing to worry about; and if there are starvation deaths these are because the local governments lack infrastructure and administrative skills. While listening to Dr. Vashisht I was reminded of a story, which many of you may have heard. It is said, that once a teacher of mathematics took his class for a picnic; on the way they had to cross a stream; the teacher calculated the average height of the class, measured the average depth of the stream and confidently advised the students to walk into the river. The poor students drowned, and our mathematician kept wondering that the average depth was after all less than the average height, how did he lose his students?

Therefore, let me repeat that on an issue of life and death, like that of food and hunger, mere expert advice and technical competence is not going to suffice. We have to supplement our technical and material skills with faith and religion. We have to involve all our religious centres, and our religious teachers and leaders. The question of hunger cannot be ignored for too long. It is good that such a seminar has been organised today. Let us now decide on a plan of action to eradicate hunger from this country; and not only from our country but also from the whole world. As I said in the beginning, I am not a thinker but a doer. I promise to carry out whatever task is assigned to me in the plan you make. Let us not tolerate the hunger of our people any longer.

Dr. Jayshree Sengupta
Senior Editor, Observer Reserach Foundation

I just want to give a kind of intellectual framework for the discussion that we are having today, and to indicate the directions along which more work needs to be done.

Let me begin by elaborating on the question of productivity of our agriculture coming down with the onset of British administration, which has been raised fairly force-fully in the morning. In the fiftieth anniversary year of Indian Independence, it is well that we should remember the state to which the British reduced our country.

From a thriving manufacturing nation India emerged in 1947 as a country of poor farmers with a heavy dependence on agriculture. The productivity of foodgrain-crops during British times declined whereas the productivity of non-foodgrain crops increased. India, which was portrayed as a land of plenty in ancient times, became a land of chronic hunger. The ownership patterns introduced during the British times encouraged absentee landlords and rack-renting. Consequently thousands of small peasants across the country lost their tenurial rights. Peasant-proprietors fell into the hands of moneylenders and lost control of their lands. Even worse was the fact that the surplus generated by the agrarian economy was not used for land improvement. It resulted in a series of famines. During the first few years of British administration in Bengal over 30 mil-lion Indians perished of starvation.

The only progress made was in irrigation works; but towards the end of the British period, government irrigation was irrigating only 15.5 percent of the total cultivated area. There was little effort to encourage the use of improved agricultural implements, improved seeds and fertilisers. While modern machinery was increasingly introduced throughout Europe, Indian farmers continued ploughing the land with obsolete ploughs.

Per capita agricultural productivity declined at the rate of 0.72 percent per year during 1911 to 1941; foodgrains-output declined by 29 per cent during the same period. Increase in crop acreage was the only reason for an increase in agricultural output. Foodgrains continued to be exported. The decline in the yields of food-crops was accompanied by increase in the yields of commercial crops as better and irrigated lands and capital resources were shifted to commercial crops. There was no effort made at increasing investment in terracing, flood control, drainage or de-salination of soil. The subdivision of holdings that took place during the British period is still with us, and is one of the reasons for low productivity of agriculture.
This is about the past. What are the problems of agriculture today? We have had a very good discussion on problems of low investment, both public and private, low productivity and limited irrigation. For the next seminar, we can probably focus on what has been done during the last fifty years by the government of India. The damage done by the colonial masters could have been rectified by the government of India by giving priority to agriculture; but except in the first five-year plan, agriculture has been largely neglected.

Another issue that we need to look into is that of self-sufficiency in food. Are we really self-sufficient in food, when a large proportion of our people is still living in hunger? The latest human development report of the United Nations Development Programme estimates that 52 percent of the children in India are undernourished even now.

The most crucial problem is of course that of low productivity in agriculture, which we have inherited from the British past. How can agricultural productivity be raised? Perhaps we should have a separate seminar on ways of raising agricultural productivity.

The question of purchasing power also needs to be addressed. There may be large stocks of food in the country, yet the poor are not able to buy food. How will they have the purchasing power to afford food? This also brings us to the question of distribution and management of the public distribution system, as well as the poverty alleviation programmes that are designed to enhance income generating capacity of the poor. So, along with the economic reforms we have to have poverty alleviation programmes and we have to have better distribution through a properly targeted public distribution system.

Lastly, what is it that we can do in future? Can we bring back the charitable institutions and the instincts of the people that gave rise to large scale sharing of food in the past? How are we going to tackle hunger amidst this globalization, which has sharpened income inequalities? Should we enter into large scale export and import of food? Should we allow the cropping pattern to change under the impact of reforms that allow multinationals to enter food processing industries, for which special types of food crops are needed? We shall have to pay serious attention to all these questions.

Shri S. Gurumurthy
Joint-Convenor, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch

Mishraji mentioned that the objective of this seminar is to bring together the political and religious India, the intel-lectual and common India, and the thinking and acting India. However, the so-called political, intellectual and thinking India is only a euphemism for the secular India; and secular India’s agenda involves avoiding all dealing with religious India. Indians are an essentially religious people; almost all Indian people are religious, whichever particular faith they may belong to. But, the secular establishment of India has convinced itself that to deal with religious India is anti-modern, and so in effect it refuses to deal with India.

In the prevailing atmosphere, this seminar is indeed different. Seminars in Delhi do not begin with an invocation; some secular songs may be sung, but not an invocation. The atmosphere of this seminar, where we are trying to bring together people of two distinct streams—the ordinary traditional stream and the elite secular stream–is indeed different. This is a welcome development.

The views expressed today also clearly bring out the differing perceptions of the traditional and modern India. It is not that there is no effort to understand each other. But it seems that secular India is incapable of understand-ing religious India. Thus, modern India thinks of food as an economic issue; it believes that if people have to eat they must buy food; and if they do not have enough purchasing power, they must wait till economic develop-ment brings them such power. Traditional India, on the other hand, believes that the hungry must be fed, all else can wait.

Much of the discussion we have on core public issues like that of food proceeds on the assumption that there are only two institutions that are active in India, the state and the market. But whether we like it or not, and whether we take note of it or not, there is another set of institutions active in India. These are the institutions of what I like to call the dharmika collectivity, consisting of the family, the community, the religious sampradaya, and so on; and this dharmika collectivity is not a merely religious entity, it also has an economic significance.
To what extent this dharmika collectivity can be activated to solve the problems that we face today? Is there no way that this collectivity becomes a partner with the institutions of the state and the market in coping with our present? Must this ordinary dharmika collectivity of India be always seen as an obstacle to be surmounted through the state and the market? Can these two different sets of institutions not be made to supplement each other? This is a challenge that we face today.

Modern economists and administrators tell us that food cannot be reached to the starving people of Kalahandi, because the region lacks proper infrastructure and administrative machinery to move and distribute food. But we know that in the same area traditional institutions have been able to bring and distribute large quantities of food. Why must we always look up to modern institutions alone? Why can we not use the existing institutions of Indian society to do the job?I have been to Dharmasthala. Shri Virendra Heggade, the chief householder of Dharmasthala, is practically the chief minister of the region. No officer or minister of the state matters there. Virendra Heggade is the person in charge. He is a Jain; and he looks after Dharmasthala on behalf of Shri Manjunatha, the form Shiva has chosen to take at Dharmasthala. On behalf of Shri Manjunatha, more than 30,000 people are fed every day at Dharmasthala. The darshana of Shri Manjunatha remains incomplete without taking food there. Shri Chaturanan Mishra this morning expressed the view that today nobody would like to accept dana, charity. But for the people who eat at Dharmasthala, the dana of food they get is indeed the prasada of Shri Manjunatha. In fact, all dana in India is given and taken as the prasada of gods; after all anything that man earns is also nothing more than prasada of gods.

The way the ordinary Indian thinks is different from the economic and social thinking that we, the elite, have learned to practise. And, fifty years of this secularist imposition on this country has drained the ordinary stream of thinking of all legitimacy. The elite India has withdrawn acceptance from that way of thinking. To recover confidence in the tradition and in the ways of the ordinary Indian is certainly one of the objectives of this seminar.

Modern secular teaching however insists on destroying confidence in traditional India. Shri D. Raja today persis-tently insisted that the past could not have been free of hunger; nor could the Indians have practised any sharing. Efficiency, productivity and egalitarianism, he believes, are all products of the present. Our finance minister, Shri Chidambaram, is also fond of expressing similar views. Recently while launching the voluntary income disclosure scheme in the South, he said that for 5000 years India had never seen prosperity; we had always been hungry and poor; with globalization of the economy we for the first time in history had got the chance to be rich!

Even the British would not have said anything as abusive of India as this. The British records show that the country they came to rule over was amongst the most prosperous countries of the time. If that were not so, why would Columbus’s and Vasco-da-Gama’s of the West have tried so hard to search for a naval route to India. Why would they have wanted to reach a poor and hungry country with such effort and tenacity?

The secularist India has acquired this mindset that there is nothing in our past that needs to be looked up to or cared for. In this prevailing antipathy for India, Centre for Policy Studies has made a path-breaking discovery; they have shown how successful the Indian society was. They have shown how well Indians of a not too distant past managed their economic, political and social affairs.

And they have shown that for traditional India food was never a mere economic commodity. For traditional India it was a matter that concerned the core of civilised living. For most countries of the world, food still remains a matter of civilisational dignity; it is not for nothing that the Japanese insist on buying Japanese rice at a price many times higher than the price at which California shall happily sell its rice to them. Even if we have to bribe our farmers by means of subsidies to make them grow more food, it shall still be a worthwhile thing to do. It shall be an honest and legitimate thing to do.

Shri Raja said that to talk about hunger, you must have experienced hunger yourself. I have experienced hunger. I know what hunger is. There was many a day when I went to school without any food. But experiencing hunger does not mean that one rebels against tradition and destroys something that has been sustaining this country. There must be a proper intellectual appreciation of the role played by tradition in sustaining Indian society and economy.

The work of the Centre for Policy Studies has indeed provided the impetus for this effort to bring the traditional and the modern secular India together. In my view, if secular India persists in its refusal to deal with religious India, then traditional India shall have to begin asserting itself. It shall have to reinstate itself. That shall provide the solution to many problems of India, including the problem of hunger.

Shrimati Madhu Kishwar
Editor, Manushi

Shrimati Madhu Kishwar spoke in Hindi. The following is a brief translation of the points she made:
If the religious places of India could begin the great dharmika act of feeding the hungry, it shall become diffi-cult for the so-called secularists to raise fingers against them. Gurudwaras undertake feeding; that is why in Punjab even committed communists have to go and bow in the Gurudwaras. There is much petty politics played out around the Gurudwaras, but the one great dharmika task they perform is visible to everyone.

Since the morning we have heard a number of senior political leaders speaking about what needs to be done about the problem of hunger. They have all offered eminently sensible suggestions. I have been wondering why don’t they make moves to implement their suggestions, when they meet in the Parliament and the Cabinet? Why has the problem been allowed to fester for so long?

Another point that has been raised quite forcefully during the discussions today is regarding the great danger that the activities of multilateral organisations like the IMF, World Bank and WTO, and the multinational corporations are going to pose before us. I am not in sympathy with such sentiments. The IMF and World Bank offer their advice and remedies only to those who go to seek assistance and loans from them. When you go to a banker for a loan, he is certainly going to ask you to put your house and business in order so that you are in a position to return his loan. This happens with all of us. What is special about the IMF and World Bank advising their clients? If you do not like to listen to such advice, don’t seek their assistance. Why keep crying over what they are doing to us and so on? Similarly, the multinational corporations do not force their seeds upon the cultivators on the point of a gun; they sell seeds to willing buyers. We have destroyed our seeds, and we are now blaming the multinationals.

The WTO does not oblige us to reduce subsidies in the agricultural sector; because our government admits that in real terms the agricultural sector in India is actually suffering a negative subsidy. The WTO arrangement any-way is a participatory arrangement. It is not something that the developed world has imposed upon the developing countries; those who do not want to participate in this global arrangement can always quit.

I also must draw attention to the fact that we ourselves have grossly neglected agriculture. We have so loaded our economy and polity against agriculture, that today a peasant who leaves the agricultural occupation and comes to the city to ply the lowest urban occupation of a rickshaw-puller finds himself in a better position. He is able to main-tain himself and save some money to support agriculture back home. Today, the growers of food are amongst the most malnourished in India. Our policies are such that we seem to be carrying out a price-war against our own growers. We import food at a higher price, but refuse to pay remunerative prices to the cultivators. We make almost no investment in agriculture. Even in Punjab, whatever investment has taken place is because the sons of Punjabi cultivators have gone to England and Canada, earned money there, and sent it back home.

The union minister for Agriculture this morning said that the government has to import food in order to keep the hoarders at bay. But the government itself carries out the largest hoarding operation in India to keep the prices artificially depressed. I believe that we can make no progress, till agriculture in India is not liberated from the clutches of the multifarious operations of the government. If the government continues with its pricing and control policies, the cultivators shall soon stop growing foodgrains. They shall grow eucalyptus for the industry, they shall grow flowers for export to Holland, but they shall not grow food; and nothing would possibly be able to make them grow food, not even the calls of the religious leaders.

However, if we recast our polity and economy such that the agricultural sector begins to acquire some affluence,then we shall have no need to arrange for any great dist-ribution. Affluent growers shall themselves organize public feeding in the temples and Gurudwaras across the country, as they used to do in the earlier times.

Dr. J. K. Bajaj
Centre for Policy Studies

Before beginning the valedictory session, Shri Mishra asked Shri Bajaj to briefly respond to some of the points made during the day. Dr. Bajaj said:

I shall take only a couple of minutes, and clarify one or two issues, that seem to have been somewhat misunder-stood. First, it seems some confusion has been caused by the term Annadana, giving of food, that we have used in our book and in this seminar. As far as we understand, the Indian term dana does not mean charity as it is un-derstood in English. From whatever we have read of the Indian texts, it seems clear that in the view of classical India, it is always the giver who is obliged to the one who takes, it is not the other way round. But, more importantly, the term belongs to a way of living that is based upon give and take. In the Indian view, as I said in the morning, the universe manifests itself through relations of give and take between various aspects of creation. In such a universe, taking without giving becomes a violation of the essential law of nature. It becomes a sin for which there is no redemption. And therefore the need of the giver to give is always greater than that of the receiver to receive.

Even without an understanding of this Indian view of the universe, it is not too difficult to understand that pro-viding for the hungry is not charity in the usual sense. It is an obligation that every civilised society has to meet, be-cause no society can possibly live with the hunger of many. Giving of food certainly cannot reduce the dignity of a so-ciety; it is the hunger of many that makes a society undig-nified to the core. Our insistence on Annadana is not meant to reduce the dignity of the hungry; it is meant to enhance the dignity of all of us.

Secondly, there has been some confusion on the dis-tinction between food and foodgrains, between bhojan and anna, as Shri Chaturanan Mishra put it. I am a bit sur-prised at the way this distinction has been raised; it has been implied by some that we many not have enough foodgrains but we have enough food. Every economist knows that the amount of food available in a society is very closely linked to the amount of foodgrains available. No economist shall believe, that in an essentially agricul-tural country like India, we can have low amounts of foodgrains, yet high amounts of food.

To produce foods other than foodgrains, larger amounts of foodgrains are needed. Production of a unit of milk, of poultry or of other flesh, requires many units of foodgrains. In any case 200 kg per capita per year is the total availability of staple foods in India. We produce 200 kg per capita per year of foodgrains, of which about 15 percent goes towards seed and wastage, leaving about 170 kg per capita for consumption. In addition we produce about 20 kg per capita of potato, and about 7 kg of poultry, flesh and fish. Thus availability of all staple, not only foodgrains, adds up to 200 kg per capita per year.

Thirdly, I want to make a submission regarding the perspective in which we should look at our food problem. During the day many somewhat discordant issues have been raised: the issue of prices of agricultural produce, the issue of increasing agricultural production leading to environmental degradation, the issue of choice between modern and traditional technologies, and so on. These are all issues that have become part of the current discourse; there is much scope of engaging in debate over these questions. I want to submit before this gathering that our problem today is a large problem; it is not a small problem. The issues that we have been talking about arise when we make our large problem small. These are the issues that arise when we think of increasing our food production by say 10 million tons in the next 5 years, which is the kind of target we have been usually setting for ourselves. When we think of increasing food production by say 200 million tons in ten years, which is our minimum requirement, then the perspective changes, and the questions regarding pricing, technology and environment, etc., begin to acquire entirely different forms.

When you think of producing another 200 million tons in ten years, then all these intractable looking questions of how much of fertiliser to use and whether to use ferti-liser or not, what kind of water management to adopt and whether to build big dams or not, and so on, begin to present themselves in a different perspective. From the perspective of the big target, there perhaps may not be so much of conflict on these questions, because when the target is big, the solutions are often simple and obvious. Quantitative changes have a way of becoming qualitative changes after a certain point. This quantitative change from thinking in terms of achieving an additional 10 million tons of foodgrains to that of aiming at an increment of 200 million tons shall bring forth a qualitative change in our way of looking at most problems of today. Let me therefore submit that we should begin looking at this larger target, which alone is commensurate with the dimensions and dignity of a great country like India.