'Centre to blame for starvation'

NEW DELHI, AUG. 30. The Opposition in the Lok Sabha today criticised the Centre for failing to feed the poor and the hungry despite surplus foodgrains due to poor management and inefficient public distribution system.

Participating in a late evening debate on ``problems caused by non-availability of foodgrains'', almost all opponents of the ruling NDA coalition said the Centre could not absolve itself of its responsibility by blaming the States for poor offtake of foodgrains and faulty delivery system.

Almost all parties demanded that the Centre discuss hunger- related deaths in the coming meeting of the National Development Council. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, has convened a meeting of the NDC on September 1 to discuss the Draft Approach Paper to the 10th Five-Year Plan.

Leading the attack, the Congress leader, Mr. Shivraj Patil, said instead of blaming it all on the ``50 years rule of the Congress'' or on State Governments, the Centre should carry the States along with it and find a solution.

He said it was nothing but the failure of administration and management of the system that a nation that was self-sufficient in foodgrains was unable to feed its poor and hungry. What was required was political will, vision and leadership.

Mr. Patil said hunger had no face and starvation deaths could not be compensated. Deaths had been reported from various parts - Orissa, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, North-East and Jammu and Kashmir. He said the profit and loss criterion should not be applied when it involved the question of providing two square meals to the people, which was the Constitutional obligation of the Government.

Mr. Roop Chand Pal (CPI-M) said there was something terribly wrong with the system that despite surplus stocks, people were dying of hunger. He said the Centre had tried to put the blame on State Governments, whereas the wrong policy decision to remove the above poverty line people from the system had introduced distortions in the PDS resulting in poor offtake of foodgrains.

He made a strong plea for the Government to go in for decentralisation of procurement, storage and distribution and to go in for setting up foodgrain banks at the grassroots as suggested by the agriculturist, Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. ``Women should be out at the centre of foodgrains management.''

Earlier initiating the discussion, Mr. Bikram Keshari Deo, BJP MP from Kalahandi, bemoaned that despite all around development starvation deaths were being reported from all parts of the country. He blamed the past Congress Governments for the present situation and demanded adequate central funds for long- term plans to eradicate poverty in the Kalahandi region, Bolangir and Rayagada district.

Mr. Deo said that there were no proper figures of people below the poverty line and there were conflicting identification which came in the way of proper implementation.