Food security, Lokpal and lessons in policymaking

Politics vs public welfare: No prize for guessing the winner


Prasanna Mohanty | December 20, 2011

Nothing, it seems, moves our elected government as political expediency. Note the alacrity with which the government moved to clear the food security bill and induct RLD leader Ajit Singh into the cabinet on Sunday in sharp contrast with its vacillation over the Lokpal bill.

Amid reports of rotting stocks in the FCI godowns even while a large chunk of population faced starvation, the apex court last year asked the government to distribute food grains free to the needy. The government refused, saying that it would require Rs 5,000 crore to honour the court’s wishes. The same government, however, had no hesitation in clearing the food security bill on Sunday that would require additional resources of Rs 30,000 crore. Worse, some of the valid concerns about the leaking PDS and difficulties in identifying beneficiaries and complying with the provisions like taking food to75 percent of population in rural and 50 percent in urban areas, which would defeat the very purpose of the bill, were overlooked.

What has changed between then and now? The forthcoming elections in UP and other states that would follow. The Congress-led government wants to go to people saying that it cares for them before the election commission’s code of conduct comes into effect.

Similar motive forced the government to induct RLD leader Ajit Singh and handover the civil aviation portfolio to him, knowing very well that this sector is facing an unprecedented crisis. The national career, Air India, is in a big mess and so are some private airlines like Kingfisher. But Ajit Singh said not a word about this after being sworn in. On the contrary, he said his attention was firmly focused on the UP elections. This wasn’t unexpected, for he wasn’t brought in because of his understanding of the civil aviation industry in the first place. He was brought in because of the Jat votes he will bring to the table during the elections in UP. He was more keen on the agriculture ministry which Sharad Pawar was unwilling to relinquish.

Contrast this with the government’s dithering over the Lokpal bill. For the past 43 years, successive governments and parliament have been debating and discussing the anti-corruption mechanism threadbare. For close to six months, Anna Hazare has mobilized a strong public opinion for an effective Lokpal. There have been several all-party meetings and several standing committee reports, but all these were clearly inadequate in convincing the same government to move ahead. The cabinet again deferred a decision on it last week.

The disconnect between people and their representatives running the government on their behalf couldn’t be sharper.



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