ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Calcutta Diary

The absurd economic laws and theories that have dominated western societies have succeeded in doing so because most of these societies have an infrastructure of inequity and inequality. The pretence of perfect competition helps the expansion of monopoly in the system, for it enables the strong to confront in the market the weak, who are crushed in no time. To assuage their left-over morality the rich have also developed a second-order formulation: if a tiny fragment of the population turn out to be filthily rich, a part of their income will trickle down and take care of the problems of the poor. Nationally as well as internationally, we are at the moment helpless victims of such trivial theorisations and actions based on them.

That august body of establishment stalwarts, the prime minister’s Economic Advisory Council, have spoken: they have a solution to the crisis created by cheap foodgrains and other farm products coming from overseas and flooding the home market. Our surplus-raising farmers are crying hoarse that the government has an obligation to bail them out from the predicament they are facing. Inveterate believers in the free market, the Economic Advisory Council think they know how to lick the problem. What is lost in the swings must be gained back on the roundabouts. Let the restrictions on the inter-state movement of foodgrains be immediately withdrawn. In case this is done, the big farmers and traders, who are usually in cahoots, will be able to sell their products to the poor consumers in the deficit states, such as in the eastern and central parts of the country. The Food Corporation of India will, at the same time, be prohibited from competing with the farmers-traders combine by purchasing grains in the post-harvest season. The traders and their friends will therefore have a free run to run to death the helpless consumers. It is only after private traders have made an ample pile from their operations and there are still some left-over grains which they are reluctant to buy, the Food Corporation of India would step in and lift this residue at prices dictated by traders.

Thirty-five odd years, and the issue has now come a full circle. In the mid-1960s, the twin institutions, the Food Corporation of India and the Agricultural Prices Commission, were set up to ensure that in periods of distress, consumers, particularly in the deficit regions, could be supplied essential grains at reasonable prices; the states were cordoned off, the Food Corporation – and sometimes state government agencies – were empowered to buy grain at procurement prices recommended by the Agricultural Prices Commission. Wise men have reached the judgment that there has been no recurrence of famines in India since that time because of the regular and detailed dissemination of information about emerging food shortages here and there by the country’s free press. One-third of the national population in this country still lives below the level of poverty despite wide awareness amidst scholars and politicians of this fact. Similarly, no lack of knowledge persists about the frightening incidence of illiteracy and malnutrition; the country’s much vaunted free press has been of no help towards eradicating illiteracy or malnutrition either. Not the kindness and sense of responsibility of the media, it is the wide-ranging public distribution system and the pre-emption by the Food Corporation of private trade from the grain market that have allowed the country to be spared the periodic scourge of famines. But the ruling classes, who articulate the ruling ideas in society, have travelled along the learning curve. They are fully convinced that those years and those acts constituted an aberration, India’s destiny lies in reposing abiding faith in free and perfect markets, where there will be no hanky-panky about looking after the interests of indigent consumers, so much so that rich farmers and traders will be the monarch of all they survey. The Economic Advisory Council know their oats; they are one hundred per cent cognisant where the interests of the ruling classes lie.

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