I was at Chandni Chowk, in Old Delhi, and was heading off to The Red Fort, to do some photography. I got onto a rickshaw, and while the rickshaw driver was engaged in an altercation (he did he whacked) with a ruffian who was driving a car, I noticed this gentleman sitting by the road divider, eating his lunch.
He is sitting there in the midst of the traffic, eating a roti, with barely any vegetable in it. This is not a great diet by any standard. It is pure carbohydrate. Sure, it has lots of fibre, but that it all, really.
You can discount the ambience that his wonderful dining provides, for the moment. Forget about the smoke, the pollution, and the free radicals that are being generated in his body. This is his moment of peace.
Yet, the food he gets to eat is simply not good enough in terms of micro- and macro-nutrients. I don’t even think that he gets enough calories to consume during the day.
Now, the Government is coming up with this wonderful Food Security Bill, a Bill that is essentially a subsidy bill. I will come back to the issue of subsidies in a later blog post, as there is more to this than just the money.
Now, when I was speaking to a professor recently, he mentioned that Food and Nutrition Security is a slightly more complex subject than just providing calories and nutrients. It also includes other factors like availability, quality, digestibility. This is true. What is the point of providing people with food if they cannot digest it, or if it is of poor quality.
Now, the GOI intends to spend a huge, and obscenely huge amount of money every year on providing subsidized food.
The fact is, that this subsidy can, and will, play havoc with the Government’s finances.
The fact is, that more than 30% of India’s grain rots in the silos every month. While our agricultural productivity is low, I do believe that we produce enough grain to feed the country’s people. It just does not reach them. Why? Because a lot of it rots.
Most of India’s fruit and vegetable distribution is controlled by a minority of traders, who manage the trade in an antiquated and opaque manner.
The fact is, that our Public Distribution sucks, and the food does not reach the people it should reach. By the time it reaches them, the quality is steadily degraded and adulterated.
Now, this Food Security Bill sounds like a great political campaign, especially since elections are coming around the corner. However, this will not solve the problem of India’s poor and hungry.
What we need, is a more systemic analysis, a systemic solution that addresses the issues of productivity, storage, distribution, and quality amongst others.
I also think that there are great leadership lessons to be learned here, but that is another story.
For now, the one question that needs to be addressed, is how people like the honorable gentleman in the photograph gets a good, nutritious meal, without bankrupting the country with election planks like The Food Security Bill.