Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anaaj to anaaj, bora bhi durlabh

I don’t know much about Latehar, a district in Jharkhand, and what’s been happening there. When I ran a search online, I found one news item about how there are fewer wolves in the wolf sanctuary in Latehar, and a few items about Naxal violence. For instance, an attack on an independent Member of Parliament, Inder Singh Namdhari.
There’s also an item about how a village called Sarju — or Sarayu — that used to be a Maoist ‘hotbed’ is on its way to development. A special development programme has been initiated to bring about political mobilisation, social justice and security. Security forces are camping out there already. There is now talk of education and drinking water and sanitation and even building a stadium. There isn’t much talk of food, though.
The reason I was interested in Latehar was that there was some mention of a recent protest in Manika block, where activists were demanding that the government’s grain godowns be opened and food distributed to the hungry. This was barely a day or two after Independence day, when the chief minister Arjun Munda made a speech promising food security.
Perhaps, there is reason to worry. The public distribution system is very important in Jharkhand, which doesn’t grow enough food to meet its needs, and has a very high incidence of poverty (official poverty, which means not enough calories) compared to the all-India average. The ‘poor’ constitute nearly 50% of the rural population. Besides, state scientists also fear a 40% reduction in rice harvests this year, thanks to the delayed monsoon.
Forty percent is a lot less than usual, and even the usual picture isn’t pretty. A June 2012 video on Videovolunteers, filmed by a community correspondent, suggests that people don’t get food grains every month at the local PDS shop and certainly not their full quota of 35 kilos. Most get only about 30 kilos. Meanwhile, a block official explained that about five kilos might have been shaved off to account for the weight of the jute sack.
This business of jute sacks is also quite strange. Apparently, last year India’s food production went up to 250 million tonne. This should be a cause for joy. But in Raisen, farmers were protesting — and the police was opening fire — because the state wasn’t buying their grain. Meanwhile, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh was blaming the central government, and threatening to go on hunger strike. The reason was a shortage of jute sacks.
Because if there are no sacks, then farmers cannot transport their harvest. There was a similar problem in Uttar Pradesh. Reports say, some farmers in Punjab have committed suicide because of this. Oddly enough, reports also say that jute farmers in Bengal are burning their own crops because the prices of jute have crashed. Which is strange, given that there is such a great demand, and considering that India and Bangadesh produce most of the world’s jute.
Perhaps farmers in Jharkhand should try growing jute, or some organic substitute. The state also has high rates of unemployment, although the state’s per capita income is on par with the rest of India. Which means there are many more poor people who desperately need work, and a few people who have a lot of money. Which reminds me of activist Niyamat Ansari, who was killed days after he helped expose fraud in an NREGA scheme in Latehar district. Which means that some local officials were stealing our money by creating fake documents using the names of really poor — and hungry — citizens. I would like to know if these officials are in jail. I hope they are.
First published here

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