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Food for thought

india Updated: May 14, 2007 23:25 IST

In India, food worth Rs 58,000 crore goes waste every year. This quantity is enough to meet the nutritional needs of the economically disadvantaged. If parliamentarians were shocked at the admission made by Minister of State for Food Processing Industries Subodh Kant Sahay, they hid it rather well. Beyond the hand-wringing, there seems to be little movement on the ground to improve matters. The gaping holes in the delivery system have ensured that the 220 million Indians below the poverty line still have little, if any, access to food.

Apart from tweaking the much-reviled public distribution system, the network meant to provide basic food items to the needy, in a desultory manner every now and then, there have been no path-breaking changes. Availability and physical access to food remain mired in a nightmare of logistics. Corruption, inefficiency and apathy have ensured that the PDS has never worked for those who need it most. The Planning Commission reported that 58 per cent of subsidised foodgrain does not reach the intended families. The International Food Policy Research Institute pegged the leakage rate of food subsidies programmes in India at 50-80 per cent. The wastage now recorded is proof of colossal State negligence. It is mainly due to lack of post-harvest infrastructure such as cold chain facilities, transportation and proper storage facilities. There is a dire need to adopt technologies that will extend the shelf-life of fruits and vegetables and proper processing of food grains. An inefficient cold storage system has been India’s bane for years, yet there’s been little forward movement.

A judicious mix of pricing, imports and access are supposed to reform the very concept of food security as we know it. It will take a considerable amount of time for policy changes to be implemented. The food marts are welcome but they are unlikely to tackle the problem. The UPA has been very vocal on its commitment to the welfare of the common man. That is what is compromised when we allow foodgrain, fruits and vegetables to rot. This has nothing to do with policy; it is a lack of basic management.