As the chances of drought grow with every rainless day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done well to articulate the main goal of public policy in case the monsoon doesn’t recover soon. “No citizen will go hungry,” he promised on Saturday.
The food stocks available domestically and the foreign exchange reserves that can be used to buy food from the world market are adequate to see us through a tough year. But that alone is not enough. Food has to reach the poorest, who are likely to live in the worst governed and remotest parts of India.
Amartya Sen has shown in his path-breaking research on famines that hunger is not only the result of a lack of food supplies but also because the poor do not have incomes to buy it, and official mechanisms to distribute it are ridden with inequities.
In that context, a lot depends on how well the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme works as a basic income net and how well the public distribution system works in the months ahead.