Press ahead with the demand for a Modern Universal Public Distribution System!
Food price inflation has been reported at 18% over the previous year in the third week of January. Conditions of life for millions dependent on fixed wage incomes are becoming unbearable. Conditions facing peasants and small family enterprises are also becoming untenable, with extremely high degrees of uncertainty and price volatility affecting food as well as raw materials.
Press ahead with the demand for a Modern Universal Public Distribution System!
Food price inflation has been reported at 18% over the previous year in the third week of January. Conditions of life for millions dependent on fixed wage incomes are becoming unbearable. Conditions facing peasants and small family enterprises are also becoming untenable, with extremely high degrees of uncertainty and price volatility affecting food as well as raw materials. On the one hand, the rulers boast about rapid GDP growth and the imperialists are endorsing this by acclaiming the Indian economy as one of the growth economies today. On the other hand, when it comes to ensuring that the masses of people can afford to buy the most basic essentials like food, the rulers throw up their hands and claim to be helpless in the face of the crippling food price inflation.
The question of reaching food to the people is of first rate importance. However, it is obvious that the government is not interested in resolving the crisis in favour of the people. Food prices have been rising over the last two years, and the government has been promising at regular intervals that the prices will come down within a definite period. More recently, the Prime Minister and his senior cabinet colleagues have held a series of well-publicised consultations with experts and economists on how to tame the high food inflation triggered by the zooming prices of onions, other vegetables, meat, eggs, milk and edible oils. The situation on the ground has not changed much despite the promises and consultations!
We would be very wrong in concluding from this that the government is just being incompetent or negligent. The truth is that successive governments, including this one, have rejected the principle that food is a universal right, because this goes against the interests of capitalist profiteers. Far from recognising food as a universal right, the capitalist governments have been busy in expanding the scope for using food as a commodity whose exchange is a source of maximum profits for private traders and monopoly corporations.
Public versus Private Distribution
Bourgeois economic advisors of the government point to the corruption and inefficiency of the Food Corporation of India to argue that public distribution of food is an old fashioned idea. In the name of reforming the economy, the old Public Distribution System has been destroyed, which covered rice, wheat and a few other items being procured at assured prices and supplied at affordable prices. Over the past two decades, the relative role of FCI in food trade has declined steeply. Trade in food has increasingly been left in the hands of private profiteers.
In the present context, various federations of Indian monopoly capitalist houses are pushing for the expansion of large-scale corporate retail trading business as the best way to solve the food price inflation problem. In fact, the crisis in food prices is being used by the government to push for changes in policy to favour the further expansion of capitalist monopolies in food trade and storage. The Central Government has put forward the proposal to permit Foreign Direct Investment in retail trade up to 51%.
It does not need specialised training in economic theory to understand that at times of food shortage, the interest of a private trader acts in contradiction to the social interest of ensuring that everyone is adequately fed. When there is shortage of a commodity, be it onion or tur dal, its price will rise. Once price begins to rise, every private trader calculates that greater profits can be pocketed by selling later, rather than sooner. The individual actions of numerous private traders together aggravate the shortage, sending prices even higher. It becomes a vicious cycle. Stocks of relatively durable commodities get accumulated while people go hungry to bed.
In addition to the physical hoarding of food by trading companies, there is also massive hoarding today of claims on future supplies, in the forward trading markets. The central government imposed a temporary ban on forward trading some time ago, but only in a few commodities. Forward trading in cotton continues to play havoc with cotton prices, making them shoot up and down unpredictably, leading to the closure of thousands of handlooms and power-looms, throwing lakhs of weavers out of work.
The contradiction between private trading interests and the social need to feed the population is staring us in the face. Despite this, the bourgeoisie and its spokespersons want to deny this and carry out propaganda that the “inefficiencies” in food distribution can be overcome by expanding the role of private corporations in retail food trade. Capitalist ideologues sitting in the Planning Commission are declaring that private investment is sorely needed to introduce modern methods of distribution and storage – such as cold chains, mobile technology for logistics management in moving food grains so as to minimise leakages, etc.
This raises the very important question – why cannot a government, in the 21st century, headed by an economist acclaimed by the bourgeoisie to be among the best in the world, and with superior IT skills among its people, ensure public investment to ensure the most modern storage and transportation arrangements for essential items of consumption? The answer is very straightforward. The aim, orientation and policies of this government and its super-economist Prime Minister are not driven by the interest to provide food at affordable prices for all. It is driven by the greedy interests of the capitalist class headed by the biggest monopolies.
Today, we have a Prime Minister who preaches and practises the dictum that what is good for the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and other capitalists is good for India. We are being subjected to a so-called economic reform program that is aimed at destroying public assets for the sake of maximising capitalist monopoly profits. The cynical way in which the food crisis is being used to push the interests of capitalist monopolies shows that this was in fact the real aim underlying the destruction of the old PDS. While the aim of cutting down food subsidy in the name of ‘targeting’ was presented as being ‘pro-poor’, the real aim was to convert food trade into a source of maximum trading and speculative profits for the monopoly capitalists.
The Communist Ghadar Party of India upholds the fundamental principle that the State is duty bound to ensure prosperity and protection for all. It is upon fulfilling this Duty that the State can claim its Authority. This principle emerges from the historical experience of our people, summed up in the thesis that it is the Duty of the State to take care of the basic needs of all members of society. It corresponds to the modern working class conception that rights of human beings are inviolable and have to be protected by the State.
Workers and peasants must not surrender this principle to the theory pushed by the imperialist bourgeoisie that ’market forces’ will settle the question of whose needs can be fulfilled and to what extent.
Leave everything to the market forces! This has been the slogan of Manmohan Singh, Montek Singh and other champions of capitalist reforms over the past two decades. Actually, what is meant by this is that the government should guarantee maximum profits for the monopoly capitalists and expand the scope for capitalist profiteering, including in the most essential sectors of food, education and health.
The times are demanding united action on the part of the working class, peasants and other victims of the unbearable food price inflation. We must step up our collective pressure behind the demand for a Modern and Universal PDS. This means that the State must organises the procurement, distribution and sale of food and other essential items, so as to harmonise the interests of the peasant producers and the toiling masses of consumers of food, without allowing any space for capitalist profiteers.
Addressing the problems of procurement and distribution is the most immediate necessity for dealing with the unaffordable food prices. This must be accompanied by a longer-term plan to address the problems of ensuring adequate production of all kinds of food required by our growing and increasingly productive population. This longer-term plan has to include measures to raise the productivity of agricultural labour through voluntary collectivisation with generous state support, which will enable the application of modern technology.
No compromise on universal coverage!
Faced with the widespread expression of the demand for universal PDS on the part of workers’ and peasants’ organisations all across the country, the Central Government has launched a ‘debate’ between its different advisory bodies. This debate is focused on who qualifies to be called poor in our country and how much of wheat and rice per month should different categories of families be allotted. Both sides in this debate refuse to accept the demand for universal coverage. They claim that this is not possible. The reality is that they do not want to eliminate the space for capitalist profiteers in food distribution and trade.
Workers and peasants cannot and must not compromise on the demand for universal population coverage, and for expanding the coverage of essential consumption items. We need a public system of procurement at stable and remunerate prices, not just for wheat and rice but also for different kinds of dal, oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, etc. We need retail outlets where all such items are available at affordable prices for all. We whose toil creates all the wealth of India have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from creating a new State and a new economic orientation, with a modern and universal PDS. This is the real solution to our problems.
Opposed to this real solution stands the exploiting and parasitic minority of monopoly capitalists, financial speculators and hoarders, who are keen to establish their stranglehold over food trade in our country. Trade under the control of such parasites will further aggravate the problem of food prices and availability, paving the way for bigger disasters in the future.
"Mazdoor Ekta Lehar calls on all communists, all organisations of workers, peasants, women, youth and working intellectuals to rally around the demand for self-reliance in food and for a modern universal PDS, as part of the struggle for the Navnirman of India!"