There are crores of temporary and daily-wage workers, contract workers and those employed in unregistered industry and services who are starving or on the verge of starvation. The lockdown has deprived them of their means of livelihood and their savings have run out.
The Central Government has announced that it would distribute 5 kilograms of food grains per head for the next three months free of charge, but this is available only to those households who are registered and have a ration card. About 70 percent of the population of Delhi lives in slums and most of them do not have a ration card. They are not registered at all or are registered in the village from which they have migrated.
In Delhi, the state government claims to have distributed free meals to about 12 lakh persons. However, the total number of temporary and daily-wage workers in the city is estimated at more than 30 lakh.
What is especially striking is that crores of working people are starving or on the verge of starvation in spite of the fact that there is no shortage of food in the country. Stocks of rice and wheat available with the Central Government are higher than ever before.
The Food Corporation of India and other state agencies are reported to have accumulated a stock of about 73 million (7.3 crore) tonnes of rice and wheat by March, 2019. This is estimated to have reached 78 million tonnes by March 2020. Adding un-milled paddy, the accumulated food grain stock soars to 98 million tonnes. This is more than four times the officially recommended buffer stock of 21 million tonnes for the month of April of any year.
The maximum storage capacity of government godowns is about 84 million tonnes. The godowns are already overflowing, even before any procurement of the Rabi harvest has begun!
If food grains are distributed free to 80% of the population, or about 100 crore people, at 5 kilograms per month for the next six months, the total quantity distributed would be 3 crore tonnes, which is only half the available stock.
Why is the Central Government not organising free distribution of food grains on a massive scale, including to those without ration cards and to all state governments which are running public kitchens? The reason is that such action would have a negative impact on the market price of rice and wheat during the rest of 2020. This is not acceptable to the monopoly capitalists who have become major traders of food grains, including Tatas, Reliance, Aditya Birla group, Future retail group as well as Cargill, ITC and other foreign capitalist companies.
To fulfill the greed of monopoly capitalists to reap maximum profits from food grain trade, the Central Government has been cutting back on subsidized public distribution. Over the past four years, the proportion of procured food grains which get distributed has fallen from 103% to 52%. (Handbook of Statistics on Indian Economy (2019); estimates for 2019-20)
The fact that crores of people are starving even though there are record level of public food grain stocks exposes the fundamental problem with the existing system. The fundamental problem is that the economy as well as the policies and institutions of the State are all oriented to fulfil capitalist greed and not to fulfil human needs or deliver “development for all”, as is repeatedly claimed by the Prime Minister.