Predicting a severe impact on food security following the hike in fuel prices and expressing concern over the all-round slide in India's agriculture and rural economy, a national convention on Thursday demanded a series of measures to counter it.

Speakers at the ‘Convention on Food Security and Price Rise' organised here by the Left parties said the policies of the UPA government resulted in food inflation touching 17 per cent and the agriculture sector recording a negative growth. Still the government went for a hike in the prices of petrol, diesel, kerosene and cooking gas.A resolution demanded that the government change its policies, withdraw the recent fuel hike, have a universal public distribution system instead of the targeted PDS, and distribute foodgrains stocked in godowns.

Urging the people to make the July 5 Bharat bandh a success in order to send a strong message to the government, leaders at the meeting asked the party workers to put up a show to “shake Delhi.”

Pointing out that the economics of farming was a cause for concern, agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan said that in India 60 per cent of the farm producers were also consumers unlike in the U.S. where the consumers were 97 per cent.

Dr. Swaminathan said water situation was getting serious and the government had not taken steps to issue soil health cards to farmers even though it talked of a nutrient-based fertilizer subsidy. He advocated decentralised storage facilities and suggested that food security take into account the needs of livestock also.

While the existing farmers wanted to quit the profession, the younger generation did not want to take up agriculture, Dr. Swaminathan said. While the focus was on facing the current challenge, little work was being done to cope with what the future would throw up in the form of environment-based norms. A two-degree reduction in temperature as envisaged at Copenhagen would result in a loss of 7 million tonnes in foodgrains production in Punjab alone, he said.

CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan lamented that India was among the countries that had the most number of people going hungry and malnourished children, and said food inflation affected the vast majority. “This has gone beyond acceptance…,” he said.

CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat said: “Price rise will greatly affect food security, which will have no meaning. Food inflation is reigning at 17 per cent.” While the government said it could not support Rs. 55,000-crore subsidies on food, it gave Rs. 80,000-crore relief to the corporate sector.

RSP general secretary T.J. Chandrachoodan said the aim behind universal identity was to create a separate class of people and avoid providing service to the poor. He said the corporate sector was getting all benefits and the upper echelons of society had economic stability, while the rest suffered.

AIFB general secretary Debabrata Biswas said rural economy had been ruined and the government was pursuing policies that favoured only the rich and the corporate sector.

P. Sainath, Rural Affairs Editor of TheHindu, said the government's mindset found a reflection in an Empowered Group of Ministers seeking to delink food security from nutrient security and wanting to include just wheat and rice in the first segment.

“Notional losses”

Economist Jayati Ghosh said the argument that public sector oil companies were incurring losses on account of fuel subsidy was “dishonest” as these were notional figures.