May 19: People in the rural areas of six states of India – Orissa, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhatisgarh and Maharashtra – are experiencing famine-like conditions. But the governments are refusing to give them relief. The terrible thing is that they are doing so at a time when their godowns are overflowing with grain.
Which is why an organisation called the Public Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) has filed a case (public interest litigation or PIL) on behalf of the people of these states in the Supreme Court of India. And on May 10, the Supreme Court ordered the states in question to explain their inaction.
The facts are not hidden from anyone. The media has been highlighting the condition of the affected people for a couple of months now. They have not had nutritious food to eat in a long time as their crops have failed due to drought. There is no work to be found in nearby areas or neighbouring states either, so there is no money to buy food. Water is anyway scarce. The people are slowly wasting away.
The Food Corporation of India is supposed to keep a stock of 17 million tonnes of grain as buffer stocks. A buffer stock is a certain amount of food stock that the government is supposed to keep ready at all times in order to meet emergency situations or temporary shortages, which may make the price of food grains shoot up.
If this famine-like situation is not an emergency, what is? And the biggest joke is that the FCI has about 50 million tonnes as buffer stock at present – which is more than double of what it is expected to have! In the past, the buffer stock has rotted or even been eaten by rats.
But the governments at the Centre and State have not made any attempt to think about providing relief to the impoverished people in these states. The State governments manage to do so by refusing to declare that there is a famine-like condition in their state.
The reason is, that once the State declares famine-like conditions, it has to implement a rule called the Famine Code. This Code states that in such conditions, every healthy person must present himself for work. For that work they are given food that is equal to the minimum wage they would get at any time. Those who are ill or old have to be looked after. It seems the governments do not want to do that.
PUCL has raised some very important questions:
- The Indian Constitution gives the right to life to each and every citizen. Does this right not include the right to food?
- In conditions of drought, does the State not have the responsibility of providing the minimum food needed by people to stay alive – more so when they have no money at all?
- The governments have to give their reply to the Supreme Court by July 23.