It is one thing to commit a crime and it is another thing to abet it. It is difficult to say which one is worse. Economist Amartya Sen is clearly guilty of the second, if not the first too. Apparently, even as the Congress-led UPA government introduced the Food Security Bill in the Parliament, he had pontificated on the irresponsibility of allowing deaths to happen if the Food Security Bill was not debated and passed. We did not know that he was a Bollywood script writer before he became Economist. Perhaps, it is the other way around.
It is a lie straightaway. India has an existing Public Distribution System (PDS). Food grains and other essentials are being distributed already through PDS. For the most part, the system is flawed. It is corrupt and it is inefficient. It hardly benefits the target population. It is siphoned off to feed those who can pay a lot more for the PDS food grains, oil and sugar. This has been documented year after year in Economic Surveys of the Government of India and in Planning Commission studies.
All that the Food Security Bill does is to build on this massively flawed structure, to centralise it and to expand its scope to even more undeserving segments of the population. By itself, ‘Right to Food’ does not mean that those who deserve to get their food and nutrition dignity get it. After all, it is almost a decade since we have had the ‘Right to Information’. Indian governance and bureaucracy have not become more transparent and accountable. Information is still being denied and withheld. This could have been one most potent weapon against bad governance and corruption. But, it is off the radar of people, intellectuals and the media (the separation is deliberate).
R. Jagannathan at FirstPost had written a very good article attacking Dr. Sen for his flagrant disregard for facts, for financial sustainability of the Food Security Bill and for his most shameful use of emotions and drama for wrong ends. (Check out Vivek Kaul’s article in Firstpost too)
Government finances are not just for arm-chair intellectuals and economists to dissect. Budget deficits cannot continue for ever. Ordinary people pay for it with more taxes or higher cost of living or both. Government borrowing has to be paid off or reduced through stealth or both. Higher taxes and higher cost of living hurt the poor in a country where they number at least 300 million by some definition. Doesn’t it cause deaths, misery? What is the number that Sen is willing to put on these?
Higher taxes are a burden on the future society. It is a burden on our children and grand children. Hence, food security today is about putting food on the plates of parents by removing it from the plate of their children and their children. Isn’t that a crime? Which parent would prefer to starve their children?
R. Jagannathan misses the plot completely in the end when he tries to educate Dr. Sen about the real purpose of the Food Security Bill and how it is a plot by the Congress to shore up its electoral prospects. He gives a rather wide berth to Dr. Sen’s motives. I am guessing that Jagannathan knows the truth but does not say so out of respect for Dr. Sen’s stature. That is precisely the danger. These people exploit their halo and stature to get away with utter irresponsibility and crass selfishness. Dr. Sen’s propaganda on and his support to the Food Security Bill is part of the Congress plot. He is as guilty as the Congress Party is in putting personal and party interests above that of the nation.
His sins are many:
Placing crass emotionalism in service of a flawed goal is undignified;
refusal to take cognizance of the burden on several generations of Indians from the Food Security Bill and other hare-brained schemes of the National Advisory Council (NAC) is a crime against the nation;
ignoring years of accumulated empirical evidence on government failure to deliver on the objectives of its social goals because of flawed design and corrupt and inefficient implementation is professional incompetence and
failure to address the concerns raised by Ashok Gulati on the costs of the Food Security Bill is academic dishonesty.
Every right thinking Indian should sign a petition on the winding up of the NAC or, at the minimum, on Dr. Sen’s resignation from the NAC.