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Rice to Ethanol: A survival cum revival plan

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In the midst of the sufferings due to the pandemic COVID-19, where poor are the most heat bearers, the step of Converting the surplus rice to ethanol for sanitizers industry and petrol blending, has brought lots of criticism to government and its policy formulation amid COVID 19 pandemic, while, pressure groups, NGO’s and civil societies, sites a near situation of starvation in India.

Pandemic has left no stone unturned, in a developing economy, already facing slow down, decade high unemployment rate and now a prediction for a situation of starvation, is nothing more than a disaster, but is it really so, an agrarian nation which produces record food grains every year may go through starvation like condition, lets analyse the facts before we come to a conclusion.

What does pressure groups, NGOS, social scientists say, on government’s decision to use surplus rice for alcohol?

  • India already lags behind in global hunger index ranking 102 out of total 117 nations.
  • The Wire’s analysis shows that India has the stock of food grains needed to universalise PDS for at least six months. If from the estimated population of 1.37 billion, 1.1 billion are to be provided 10 kg food grain per month for six months, it will require 66 million tonnes of food grain.
  • Unemployment rate has jumped to 23%, further increasing pressure on FCI & PDS system

    These issues raised by civil society and intelligentsia means a lot for country with more than 73 million living in extreme poverty and unemployment rate rising high at 23%, does this means that government is least bothered about poor? Or the government has enough expertise to handle the situation handle every citizen with equality.

FIRSTLY, The GLOBAL HUNGER INDEX scores are calculated on four indicators – Undernourishment, Child Wasting, the share of children under the age of five who are wasted (that is, who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernutrition); Child Stunting, children under the age of five who have low height for their age, reflecting chronic undernutrition; and Child Mortality, the mortality rate of children under the age of five.

The share of among children in India rose from 16.5 per cent in the 2008-2012 period to 20.8 per cent in 2014-2018, highest in world, according to the report. While child stunting rate, 37.9 percent, is also categorized as very high, as per report. These are HIDDEN FORM OF HUNGER, so we can say that INDIA lagged behind largely because of hidden hunger for which government has already started producing and distributing fortified food grains, and other nutrients through PDS.

In case of current situation like this which is largely temporary if we fight altogether, most important thing is food to eat, irrespective of nutrition value to avoid any starvation like situation in near future for which government has already announced, subsidised food supply to 80 crore peoples, different state governments has already issued temporary ration cards too. Assistant professor at Ambedkar University Dipa Sinha, also said that around 65 million tonnes of grain would be needed to universalize PDS for six months assuming that the grain is provided to 80% of the population. India has sufficient amount of grains to avoid ant starvation like situation, IN addition to this metrological department has predicted a normal monsoon, government has already opened agriculture sector for production, RABI CROPS had been harvested, and kharif crops are being sown, and have deposited 2000 rupees through DBT under PMKISAN Yojana, which means India is all set to produce record food grain in next six months, around 300 Mn tonnes.

Secondly, importance of Sanitizer, as per WHO guidelines frequent washing of hands with soap and using 70% alcohol based sanitizer during non-availability of water is essential to keep the Virus at bay, alcohol based sanitizer are too costly in market and out of reach of a poor or a low income group people, because of higher prices of alcohol, government has already regulated the price, but when the lockdown ends, the need and frequency of sanitizer use will increase many fold, as the threat of getting effected won’t end soon, so it is the responsibility of government to provide cheap rate sanitizer to lower income group people.

Foresight the situation clears that, when sanitizer becomes an essential part of one’s life, most of the alcohol could be diverted towards this industry instead of distilleries for wine etc, the required amount of revenue could be generated through sanitizer industry, and it will be easy for sates to force complete ban on alcoholic drinks. This is the time when a new sanitizer industry needs a major push.

Thirdly, the industry could help domestic economy to revive in future, when predicted growth is below 2%,more over we must not forget that India is a mixed economy where major roll is played by market, subsidizing all the produced grains could result in crash of local market, also producing ethanol from surplus and blending it with petrol as per policy could result in reduced import bills in such situation of crisis. India is self-sustained in agriculture, and share of agricultural export in total exports is approx. 12% which may go down because of global recession, so producing ethanol for sanitizer and petrol industries from surplus food grains is never a bad idea in all the cases we are in win-win situation.

Largely this is a survival come revival plan, where the only important thing which matters is implementation, civil societies and pressure groups must come forward and keep a check over distribution system, what we have should be used judiciously, we have more then what is required, its only about proper distribution and to correct beneficiaries, recognizing the beneficiary is another hard task on which government must work, local authorities and local governments should be made accountable for equal distribution and supply.

Government should plan to distribute sanitizers too, through PDS to the poor and low-income group, for their safety as they are most vulnerable to the disease. The period after lockdowns will be most crucial, we all must stand tall with the government to protect each and every fellow Indian from the pandemic disease.

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