You cannot buy a meal for Rs 12. But in many parts of India, it’s nearly impossible to buy a meal at all. People simply have to grow it, or pluck it, or fish it. Surpluses are sold for salt and just a few other types of food and save for weddings and emergencies. Mostly, such people are ‘poor’. Apart from the purchasing poor, who the planning commission hopes will feed themselves as per its less-than-frugal estimate, such non-buyers are being starved by poorly informed policies too.
People living in forests, accessing minor forest produce, need their continued access to the resources they depend upon more than a number. A tribal in Meghalaya at best harvests marketable goods and hopes to sell them locally. A small fisherman using boats wants only trawler-free access to the fish. And small farmers across India need their land to feed themselves and survive.
All these people also need policies that ensure the eco-systems they depend upon are protected. The unanimous rejection of mining in Niyamgiri, despite Vedanta’s narrative of jobs, by the Dongaria Konds, underscores exactly how many Indians hope to feed themselves-by using the natural resources available to them. The market is less entrenched in their plates than it is in that of a city dweller.
So, while a much more realistic, and reasonable calculation must be arrived at for cost of food, protection of eco-systems remains vital to the food security of hundreds of thousands of people.