One part of the reason why the government hesitates to move towards a market-based pricing regime for fuels is that every time the oil marketing companies raise the price of petrol, the financial press, which criticizes the government on almost a daily basis for not following sound economic policies with regard to fuel pricing, issues screaming headlines on how the common man will suffer with petrol prices surging to new highs. Until the time the press’ obsession with populist pricing for oil does not end, there can be little hope of the government pursuing sound economic policies. There are other commodities such as milk, vegetables and pulses, to cite a few examples, that have hit the common man equally hard, if not more. The government has not been able to do much in those cases, too.
Himanshu in his article “A flawed approach to food security,” (Theirview, Mint, 19 January) says that the actual take-off of foodgrains as per the National Sample Survey Organisation has been 30% as was the case of universal public distribution system (PDS) before 1997.
This is factually incorrect and misleading as the off-take under the PDS/revamped PDS during 1996-97 was 73.79% (11.4 lakh metric tonnes, or lmt of grains were lifted against a total allocation of 15.1 lmt). During 1997-98, this figure touched 77.15% (lifting of 99.01 lmt against the total allocation of 128.3 lmt). In the last three years, the trend of off-take under targeted PDS (TPDS) has ranged from 85-90%.
The author also says that off-take in Tamil Nadu has been less than 80%, and that in Chhattisgarh, off-take is less than 50%. Contrary to this, the off-take in Tamil Nadu has increased from about 77% in 2008-09 to about 100% of the allocation during 2009-10. Similarly, in case of Chhattisgarh, it has increased from about 95% in 2008-09, to about 100% of the allocation in 2009-10.
One also has to note the fact that the off-take of foodgrains depends on their availability in the open market and the difference between the market price and the Central issue price at which they are issued under the TPDS. As this difference has been increasing due to rising market prices since 1997, the lifting has also been showing an increasing trend. Moreover, greater foodgrain requirement under the proposal given by the National Advisory Council would require a greater level of procurement by the government.
AGM, Food Corporation of India
Apropos your editorial, “Two leaders, two directions,” (Mint, 11 February) the National Advisory Council (NAC) has argued for linking wages (Rs.100 per day) under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) to minimum wages. At the current rate of inflation, the Rs.100 wage stands diluted and is it, then, unreasonable to raise it to minimum wages? One wonders whether the poor of India should live or not.
When benefits such as loan rewrites are given to the industry, it is styled development while an upward shift in the wages of the poorest is styled a deficit. How many Colgate toothpastes can the population of Malabar Hill in Mumbai consume (one presumes they use Colgate and not something bought in New York). When the members of Parliament got the government to raise their salaries and perks, did the government do a cost-benefit analysis before agreeing to the idea?
Like it or not, it is the NAC under Sonia Gandhi, which has been responsible for the Right to Information and MGNREGS and not Manmohan Singh. If high-speed economic growth implies existence of empty stomachs after more than 60 years of planning, then growth is not worth it. Growth can take place only if empty stomachs are filled—irrespective of cost.
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