Harsh talked about the debates within the right to food movement on the national Food Security Bill (the Right to Food movement thought it should not only focus on food distribution, but also on food production, while Harsh thought that this would put the potential distributional achievements at risk).
He also talked about the affordability issues. He told us about how one TV interviewer aggressively asked him something along the lines of “how long do you expect the middle class to bail out the poor slackers?”. His answer? (1) who is subsidising who? (corporate benefits, failure to offer living wage), (2) the poor are hardworking, they just have not had the same opportunities—more by luck than any failing on their part, (3) it’s a political choice—you can raise taxes via higher rates, better efficiency of collection, more progressive tax regimes and you can cut back on other expenditures and (4) it’s an ethical matter—we need to decide what kind of society we want to be—one that says no matter what it costs to ensure a floor of human dignity we will pay it.
Harsh is a powerful communicator. Finally he told us of a mother he met who told him that the hardest thing she had ever had to do as a parent is to teach her children to sleep hungry. These are families that are so desperate they search for undigested grains in cow dung; they search for grains in the stores of rats; they search for grains in the post-harvested fields. The mother said the sooner you teach the children to sleep hungry the easier it gets. Harsh said that we should strive to live in a society where no mother has to teach her children to do this. Others may have heard this many times before-but on first hearing it is strong and effective communication of the problem.
During the session on media, I noted that it has taken a story currently in the Indian headlines of a child who fell into an open sewer and died to highlight the terrible state of sanitation in India. The mere existence of the open sewers is not enough, there has to be a “human interest” story for the media to get interested. This is a real challenge for all of us who want to engage the media in the extraordinary but non-sensational death of several thousands of Indian infants a day due to malnutrition.
Other things that I found really interesting on the second day:
1. Before the press scrum (see pictures below) around the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Prof. KV Thomas (one of the Ministers at the centre of the National Food Security Bill) he made some interesting points: (a) the Bill will move from a welfare perspective to a rights based perspective, (b) women as heads of families will be very prominent in the Bill’s implementation, (c) accountability and transparency is vital—he cited social audits and grievance procedures as key, (d) on universalisation he cited “practical” problems (which may be code for “affordability”) such as: can enough food be produced, procured and distributed?
|The press scrum for Minister KV Thomas|
|Minister KV Thomas|
2. The section on eradicating discrimination had some interesting ideas for changing incentives: (a) reward districts that improve inclusivity (Dr RP Mamgain), (b) procure locally (as home grown school feeding initiatives and the World Food Program’s P4P initiative do), and (c) establish Free Prior Informed Consent before any new mining or construction takes place (SC/ST/Adivasis groups tend to lose out the most) from Felix Padel.
3. Establish a Truth and Reconciliation process to address atrocities: if Indians cannot get justice for atrocities how can they get food justice? (Felix Padel).
4. From M. Kumaran, the ignored effects of targeting: (a) the use of language (those above the poverty line are not the “non poor” they are the “less poor”, (b) targeting pits the poor against each other, and (c) the concept of “diluted commitment” (diluted by poor quality services, underfunded programmes and corruption), and (d) a switch in mindset from a default targeting model, being careful about who is included to a default model of universalisation but being careful about who is excluded.
5. The combination of power and poverty that is India and the implications of this for its role in international climate policy negotiations (D. Raghunandan) . India has many of the indicators of a very poor country, and yet its size and growth rates make it part of the “big boys club”. It is straddling two worlds—powerful and poor--so it feels it does not need to do too much to slow emissions because of its need to reduce poverty, and yet the pressure put on India by (a) its aspirations to join the “big boys club” and (b) the small island states who are beginning to feel betrayed by India is forcing it to think about how to slow the growth of emissions. This attempt to “sit on a cleft stick” can be squared by an approach that is agreeable to global targets but with strong conditionalities around technology transfer and rich country behaviour.
Finally on the media, Darryl D'Monte noted that it is more interested in the minority of Indians who are trying to lose weight rather than the 600 million who are trying to gain it.