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Updated: September 7, 2010 16:26 IST

Order on free grain to poor can't be executed, says Manmohan Singh

Siddharth Varadarajan
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Labourers winnow paddy at a market in Amritsar. Commenting on Supreme Court’s order on foodgrains, the Prime Minister on Monday said his government was committed to ensure that food was available to the poor at an affordable price.
AP
Labourers winnow paddy at a market in Amritsar. Commenting on Supreme Court’s order on foodgrains, the Prime Minister on Monday said his government was committed to ensure that food was available to the poor at an affordable price.

The government will do all it can to provide affordable food to those below the poverty line but cannot implement the Supreme Court's order to give free foodgrains to the poor, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday.

In an interaction with a small group of editors at his residence — his first in several years — Dr. Singh handled questions on a wide range of domestic and foreign policy matters with confidence, spontaneity and even a touch of uncharacteristic wit. “Well, I think a pigeon has been set among the cats,” he said, when his media adviser, Harish Khare, suggested he meet with journalists more often.

Asked for his views on the film, Peepli [Live], which deals with rural indebtedness and displacement, he urged all journalists to see it because “it has a moral lesson both for politicians and for the gentlemen and ladies of the media.” Humour aside, the Prime Minister's indirect message to Natha, the film's farmer protagonist who ends up forlorn at an urban construction site, was that there is no such thing as a free lunch. India has no option but to industrialise, he said. “The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.”

If that prescription sounded politically incorrect, Dr. Singh also took on the Supreme Court for straying into the executive's domain by ordering free food for the poor. “I respectfully submit that the Supreme Court should not go into the realm of policy formulation. I respect the sentiments behind the [court] decision that when foodgrains are rotting and people are suffering from deprivation, then some way should be found to ensure that the food needs of the deprived sections are met. But quite honestly it is not possible in this country to give free food to all the poor people.”

The Prime Minister said figures vary but if one takes the Tendulkar committee's estimates, 37 per cent of the population is below the poverty line. “How are you going to give free food to such a large segment of the population,” he asked. His government was committed to ensuring that food was available to the poor at an affordable price. “But to say that we can give foodgrains free, quite frankly, if we do that on a large scale you would destroy the incentive of our farmers to produce more food and if there is no food available for distribution what will you distribute?”

‘Debate integral to Congress'

Brushing aside media perceptions of a government beset by internal divisions and drift, Dr. Singh said debate was integral to the nature of the Congress as a “mass movement” and that the cabinets of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi at times saw more dissonance than the United Progressive Alliance was accused of experiencing.

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It simply beats my imagination why the foodgrains that could rot can't be donated to India's poor. Why so many economic theories on doing the right thing? In the first place, there should have been no reason for allowing the valuable foodgrains to get spoiled. Having failed in this task, the minimum that we can do is to give it to the poor. Don't we have any conscience left?

from:  D. Chandramouli
Posted on: Nov 1, 2010 at 17:49 IST

“But he can't provide foodgrain to the poor people who are suffering to get their daily bread. No problem even though that food grains decayed inside the warehouse.” thus writes Anilkumar. It pains me greatly to say this: if foodgrains are distributed freely among the poor, all our farmers will turn poor and most of them will commit suicide. Already, India is known for farmer suicides. No one will do farming anymore since his produce will not fetch him any price. As of now, it is only the subsidy that the government is bearing and even that is straining the government’s finances. If the foodgrains are given away to the poor freely and the government foots the entire bill and not merely the subsidy, the government will become bankrupt sooner than one can imagine. The right solution to the issue was to get a sufficient number of well equipped warehouses constructed well in advance so that the deterioration would not have happened. No doubt, the lapse was an unpardonable crime against humanity. As to the poor, what they need is employment and thereby the capacity not only to buy their own food but also to free themselves from the clutches of poverty.

from:  Sunil M S
Posted on: Oct 30, 2010 at 23:17 IST

Dr. Singh is right and spoken like a true economist. Suppose we distribute grains that is feared to rot, in a large scale, then what about people that work hard and buy food? Say for example, a poor laborer works 10 hours and buys grains with meagre wages. Why should he work so much when someone else that does not work, gets free grains? Then he would leave work and stand in the line for free stuff. That way we lower "incentive" to work. Now, politicians could siphon off "rotting grains" and distribute to get votes. Benami charities will sprout that will buy "rotting grains" from godown - basically via black market and sell it to hotels. If people find rotting grains is an easy way to get free grains, even a "corrupt" godown manager will take some and make sure more grains rot. That way we lose good grains too - which will lower supply and raise price!!! People should think with their minds not heart in policy making.

from:  Venkat Kalakkad
Posted on: Oct 30, 2010 at 03:36 IST

I completely agree there are no free lunches. But isn't it the duty of the government to ensure proper storage of the food grains. How can they let the food grains to rot when there are millions of starving population in our country. Growth is not mere numbers, it has to be complemented with the over all development of the people for whose service the government exist.

from:  vidhya Unnikrishnan
Posted on: Sep 17, 2010 at 13:11 IST

Dear PM,
Please tell us why you just can't provide the free food to the poor people? What is the reason behind that? Why can't your government support agriculture, HRD is busy making IITs not the ITIs, the essential of life is to start with basic then move on to the higher standards. Your government is lacking the millennium goals but everybody in the government is concerned about the MP salary, reservations, caste in census, these issues are more prominent in your sarkar than aam aadmi.

from:  Tanuja Thapliyal
Posted on: Sep 15, 2010 at 16:19 IST

In the late 1960s America sent to India shiploads of wheat under PL 480 scheme free of cost and also plenty of milk powder for free distribution to poor. It is very simple. There are starving poor people and we have plenty of grains which is rotting. Why not distribute them? After all the tax payers' money and food stocks do not belong to any particular party. If the people do not have any objection why the government should refuse? Yes! free lunches are not for those who are able to earn. What about those poor who are unable to work? Those who have enough money to buy their lunch will not refuse if cars and petrol are given free of cost. There are thousands of individuals in India who do tremendous charity work to provide food for the poor. In my opinion they are the real heroes and not the highly qualified insensitive politicians.

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Sep 15, 2010 at 13:01 IST

Under what policy sanction free TVs, Gas connection and so many other freebies are given to people and not the rotting food grains to really starving people? Doesn't make sense to a common man like me.

from:  mvrangaraajan
Posted on: Sep 15, 2010 at 12:37 IST

How could you distribute it free.India is a nation comprising different states which fight among themselves.If the free food supply goes to Uttar Pradesh,Bihar needs to have a problem with it,similarly for Gujrat,Maharashtra etc....Secondly,the better option would be to export them and improve the BOP.

from:  Abhinav Srivastava
Posted on: Sep 14, 2010 at 19:38 IST

I do not believe the SC asked the govt to distribute rotten food grains. The arguments based on "no free lunch" don't make sense as we do not live in anything close to a neoclassical utopia of free competition.

from:  Ravi
Posted on: Sep 9, 2010 at 19:41 IST

Dr. Manmohan Singh seems to be slipping down. Going by media reports, the Supreme Court had only advised free distribution of food grains, which were being allowed to rot in the Government custody. There can be no objection to this ! Politicians are twisting this to suit their personal ends. While we don't expect anything better from a man like Sharad Pawar, it is sad that Dr. Manmohan Singh has also joined the band which is playing off-key. Dr Singh wants to take people out of agriculture and put into urban industries. Agricultrual lands will then be converted into SEZ areas and the Indians can then eat bolts and nuts instead of rice and wheat. This it the great Congress Philosophy !

from:  V. Vedagiri
Posted on: Sep 9, 2010 at 12:51 IST

Dear PM, these are two completely different things. Giving the grains which would rather rot in the FCI Storage to the poor. And, giving free food grains to the poor. “The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.” In current times, when countries are buying agriculture land in poor countries to feed their own people. We need to keep our priorities right. Instead of taking people out of agriculture, why not the government focus more energy on promoting the agriculture. When it is such a big sector that majority of our workforce is employed in agriculture.

from:  Rohit
Posted on: Sep 9, 2010 at 10:07 IST

Well, Manmohan ji is very good at statstics and economic calculations, but also he should be good at knowing the pain of being hunger of the poor. Current situation is clearly figuring out the ineffciency of storage and distrubution system. We are well aware that 50% of the food getting wasted every year. if he is able to amolirate this situation, food prices will come down and poor people will be accessble to food

from:  Venkatakiran
Posted on: Sep 9, 2010 at 09:59 IST

Perhaps I missed it, but is the fact that the grain in issue has been declared "unfit for human consumption" of no relevance? Are the poor expected to consume what others will not eat?
If you took the entire Indian foodgrains production and divided it equally among the 37 percent who are below poverty level, they would still be poor. It is an economic fact that industrialization is the key to raising their income levels, which means movement of the rural poor to jobs in the cities. There is no other way. Every industrialized country has gone through it, as China and India are today.

from:  David Salmon
Posted on: Sep 8, 2010 at 03:20 IST

It's offensive & not just politically incorrect to say that “The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.”

from:  Bharathi
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 23:02 IST

Manmohan-ji is making sense. Handouts to the poor are simply not economically feasible. His detractors on this matter would be well-suited to take a basic course in economics.

from:  Kabir Maharaj
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 22:56 IST

Yes, Dr Singh we can...
donate our facilities to Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Bangladesh to gain mileage in international arena while north-east countrymen are waiting for little kind attention;
Increase MPs salary and perks while they are not even bothered to attend the sessions and do not produce any concrete results;
Pay eleven times more than the normal cost for the umbrella being provided for CWG players
but .. free food for poor is certainly not possible, especially in country where our so called 'leaders' have turned insensitive :-(

from:  Amit
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 22:39 IST

Give a man a fish he will live for a day, teach a man how to fish he will live for ever - Singh is right.

from:  sharan
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 22:23 IST

First time Hon. P.M of India has come up frankly and straight to the point since he joined the post.
Hoping he will continue this,I,personally,fully agree with his statement since it is reflecting the holistic view Congress is taking since last year for a more open market. It is completely in line with the ideological persuasion of this government
The PM is right in saying that Hon. Supreme Court should not enter in the realm of policy making, with due regard to the sentiments behind it
but at the same time, facilities should be facilitated so that food grains should not get wasted.

from:  alok kumar
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 21:06 IST

Not a word supporting agriculture?

from:  Kuttan
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 20:24 IST

All that I see is biased judgment from an economist of great caliber like Dr M S. By stressing on the need for industrialization as the only means of salvation, he seems to have forgotten the fact that true India still lives on villages and depends on agriculture and a lion's share of the population have exceeded the age for a major "career shift" from agriculture to industrial labor and will lead to massive exploitation and disaster.

It’s prudence to plan for the future, but it’s a colossal mistake to ignore the present.

Also, agreed that we cannot keep distributing free food all the time; however that should be decided after reaching equilibrium when free distribution would be truly counterproductive to the economy. When a billion kg of grain is being wasted and many millions are living without even a meal a day consistently, we have to distribute it and not think of stabilizing the economy on their hunger. After all SC is asking to give it to people who need it and not to those who are part of "shining India".

Death due to poverty is shame for a democratic nation. What’s a government for then?

from:  Bala
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 19:46 IST

Pathetic comments, coming from the PM. Where there is a will there is always a way. The court order should have been taken in the right spirit and implemented. Also, Supreme Court did not say give free food to the poor forever. It is only the excess that is going waste and rotten that needs to be distributed.

from:  Narayanan
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 17:54 IST

Mr. PM should read the SC order carefully before giving such statements.. the SC did not say that "ALL" BPL individuals should be given free food grains. The SC had said that the food grains that are bound to rot due to inadequate or improper storage, should be distributed among the poor. The only issue for such arrangement should be the logistics required for such distribution.
And while I agree that more industrialization should be done to alleviate poverty, I hope he doesn't undermine agriculture in the process. With a population of 1.1 Billion people, the ideal situation in my opinion should be 50% industries and 50% agriculture, which would complement each others needs.

from:  Abhimanyu Singh
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 16:56 IST

Whatever method the government devises, the food grains are never going to reach the poor people actually in need, whether it is distributed free or at an affordable price. The grains will get stocked somewhere else. This is India courtesy people of India.

from:  Ravipal
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 16:46 IST

Industrialization is a good idea but why nobody talks about industrialization of agricultural sector? This will induce efficiency through competition, which will drive down the prices and problems like rotting food grain will automatically be taken care of.

from:  Tofik Shaikh
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 16:09 IST

Let the poor remain hungry. For the government the poor in this country have just not been existing. Don't bother Congress, you still have few more years to next election. Then you will come up with a paper plan that will be popular for the poor. Way to go!

from:  Arun Gupta
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 16:07 IST


If freebies are provided to poor section, then lifting of poor out of poverty would be highly difficult. They will dwell on the freebies and will never encourage themselves to come up. It is the basic financial needs that makes a person to earn, act and raise above poverty.

If the free grains cannot be provided, then the price of grains and other items can be brought down for the sake of poor.

from:  Roeas
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 15:56 IST

Dear Sir,
Both the points raised by the H'ble S'Court and H'ble PM are deeming to be correct. Though our Country is a poor country (relative qtty.), but, food, shelter, clothes and work are the basic amenities a person deserves for leading a modest life. Govt. acquires large quantities of food grains for distributing them through PDS and at times to manage food, when droughts and wars occur. Govt. dedicates a huge amount of money towards storing the food and avoiding spoilage. However, after certain period of the storage (could be 5Yrs), Govt., destroys the hoarded grains by throwing them into the sea or opting other means. Even, within this period, Govt. sometimes fails to prevent the grains from rotting, attack from insects, rodents etc.., Govt. should engage necessary agencies to come up with best possible solutions where the wastage of the stockpiles are minimised and simultaneously the food grains are distributed to the deserved. Govt. can distribute the grains that are in surplus (and about to be damaged) through MGNREGS, Food for Work schemes, Hostels run by Govt and aided institutions. With such kind of schemes, wastage of the food grains is minimised and the deserved gets the food as well (at affordable rates). In addition, GOI should count the percentages of the population which are under the BPL, APL, medium and rich classes on scientific basis. This will ensure Govt. to come to an estimation, how much food grains are to be accumulated annually, how much is needed to be distributed through PDS, to BPL and APL families etc.., Then, the surplus grains which are about to damaged can be diverted to relief works or can be sold/exported to other countries etc.,

from:  Chidambar Rao Bhukya
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 09:55 IST

It seems illogical for Prime Minister to oppose giving free grains to poor Indian folks instead of rotting in goodowns. Even the famers in villages help out people down with luck.It does not make sense in India where the prices of basic commodities do not follow the laws of supply and demand because of Excessive Commodity Speculations: PM & UPA government need to ask what Gandhiji would hav done in this case.

from:  Ganesh C. Bhuyan
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 09:46 IST

What the SC said was that the wastage of grain that was improperly stored was not acceptable. The best solution was for the government to build better storage facilities or if it was not able to do so, then it could give the grains to the poor for free. The emphasis of the comments made by the court was on avoiding waste and not on policy.

from:  James Sangster
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 09:04 IST

I would respectfully state what the PM says is absolutely true because it is not possible to give the whole of rotting food grains. First how to assess the ones as poor and how to supply? Secondly if we assess them as the ones below poverty line the number is too high. It sounds more theoritically easier than practically considering the feasibility.

from:  A Vivek
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 08:42 IST

“The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.”
Polemicists and NGOs dependent upon the support of ignorent farmers, agriculture based rural families should think it over and change direction. That will help rural citizens and agriculturists.

from:  g.raman
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 08:21 IST

Prime Minister has rightly said that it is impossible to provide free food to poor. If we do it than they will never be able to come out of poverty, because they will take it for grant that GOVT. will feed then and they shall never work. In country like India people always look forward something for free they want free food, free shelters, free cloths, free loan etc., and when everything is free than why to work simply keep lying and chit chatting.

from:  saroj thakur
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 08:17 IST

Many of the ills of our country will diminish if our top civil servants manning the departments, PSUs etc. are live wire administrators/managers, knowlegeable, quick decision makers, impartial and courageous and capable of telling spade a spade.

Lot of things can happen to the bright young persons recruited at 21 years to 28 years. They can change to mediocre or lethargic individuals and managers. The passing of time, influences and environments make deep impression upon them.

Promotion or recruitment to vital posts, heads of departments and major PSUs like FCI etc. should have strict specifications and uninfluenced by political dictum. And the government cannot get them at the present average remuneration of around Rs. 1 lakh a month.
They should be very well paid which are comparable to the one top private sector corporates.

from:  g.raman
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 07:29 IST

In a country where, may be, 70% of the people depend on agriculture for a living, the Prime Minister has nothing to say about how this economic sector can be strengthened. Instead he says that“the only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture”.He thus makes it clear that he doesn't set much store by this vital sector to alleviate poverty in the country. Does the Congress, as a mature political party, support this politically alarming enunciation of the Prime Minister's economic thinking?

from:  K.Vijayakumar
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 06:22 IST

I agree that there is no free lunch and I support that view to the core. However, it is also a crime to allow food grains rot in storage when there are several homeless dying in hunger across the country. It is a clear case of mismanagement on the officials in charge of monitoring the storage of food. Once, the grains are close to the end of their shelf life, they should be released to the market or PDS.
Allowing food grains to rot in storage is a crime (when 35% of the population is under poverty line) and the officials responsible should be held accountable and reprimanded.

from:  Arul
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 06:18 IST

At last, Manmohan Singh shows strength. I agree with him on the Supreme Court's reported statements on the food grain issue

from:  shanmugam
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 05:53 IST

Bad

from:  AJAY KUMAR
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 04:49 IST

If no free foodgrains, can't we have a food for work program?
Can we not have a system which offers free food to destitute children?
Child labor is not legal in India (there are still child laborers in hazardous environments in some places, I agree), so what solution does the government have to take care of orphaned destitute children (apart of juvenile centres) so that they do not need to work for a living?
I agree India need to be industrialized, but that does not require people to move away from agriculture....bring technology(a part of GM crops)to get better yield and provide better storage of agricultural products(coming back to the topic of rotting grains...we need better technology to store the grains in proper conditions)
Introduce more food processing industries in India so that agriculture thrives with local produce being used by local industries, less loss in that case.

from:  Guru
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 04:06 IST

I entirely agree with the PM. The SC should not have not entered into an area which is the Executive's function. In a responsible democracy, there are "no free lunches". Political parties also should evolve a code of conduct whereby they make offer promises of "free offers",during Elections. This would enable us to become a more mature democracy while at the same time, we should be more humane and committed to basic needs of the very poor amongst us.

from:  G.Naryanaswamyi
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 03:18 IST

Order on free grain to poor can't be executed, but price rise will be encouraged! Congress with aam admi!!

from:  democrazy
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 01:03 IST

India has no option but to industrialise, he said. “The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.”

Well, I admire Dr. Singh a lot but I don't think he is right when he makes the above comment. To take people out of agriculture and put them into urban slums, working for industries, is simply not the solution and it will be a blunder to try out with.

from:  Deepak
Posted on: Sep 7, 2010 at 00:29 IST

He can shed taxpayers money to Pakistan without any hesitation even though it was sure that money will not reach to flood affected people in Pakistan. And his Govt. can recommend to increase rich MPs salary and other perks. But he can't provide foodgrain to the poor people who are suffering to get their daily bread. No problem even though that food grains decayed inside the warehouse. He can offer autonomy to J&K.

from:  Anilkumar
Posted on: Sep 6, 2010 at 23:59 IST
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