ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Aam Aadmi or Khaas Aadmi?

The skyrocketing prices of food expose the aam aadmi pretentions of the government.

The powers-that-be have brought on mass misery. Food prices had been ruling high even before the failure of the south-west monsoon last year, this in the context of the very viability of peasant agriculture being at stake, and the fact that the majority of the Indian workforce’s earnings/incomes are not indexed to inflation. Amazingly, even in the face of the drought, when the prices of primary food commodities and manufactured food products rose sharply, the Union Minister of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Sharad Pawar, and the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh remained smug and complacent. But now, under public pressure in the wake of a 21.9% increase in the wholesale price of the essential commodities basket, year-on-year, December 2009, the prime minister expressed concern at the “distress that the sharp rise in food prices has caused to the common man (aam aadmi)”. This was at the Conference of Chief Ministers on Prices of Essential Commodities on 6 February. (As we go to press, as per the figures released for the week ending 6 February, food prices continue to rule high.)

Absolving his government of any responsibility and freeing it of any commensurate accountability, the prime minister blamed it all on the global prices of foodgrains and the failure of last year’s monsoon. He took credit for the central government’s open market sale scheme to offload part of its stock of grain but attributed its failure to dampen prices in the open market to the state governments’ lukewarm response to it. Indeed, the prime minister wanted the states to develop “market intervention mechanisms” to supplement the public distribution system. It is obvious that he prefers the release of the buffer stocks of foodgrains in the open market to their provision at subsidised prices to above-thepoverty-line consumers. Nevertheless, is it not true that millions are at the threshold of poverty and the skyrocketing of food prices, a further crop failure, hospitalisation and medical expenses, amortisation and interest payments, and/or a simple loss of livelihood can, all of a sudden, drive them below the poverty line?

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