It is as surreal as it seems to be. There is record food production, expected to touch 250 million metric tonnes, but the farmers are a worried lot. They do not have jute bags in which to store them. They are now piled up on the threshing floor in the open fields. A but of rain and wind and the crop is very nearly destroyed. Members of Lok Sabha, led by Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition and senior BJP leader, Sharad Yadav, Janata Dal (U) leader, Raghuvansh Prasad of Rashtriya Janata Dal were literally up in arms against the government in the House at the end of Question Hour on Monday. Sharad Yadav made a strong plea that farmers need help and rescue. Swaraj got up and asked finance minister Pranab Mukherjee that he should do something. "Give us jute bags,"shouted Swaraj, who Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, where there is an acute shortage of jute bags. She had been raising the issue for more than a week. She told journalists last week that she has worked out a solution with the relevant ministries and departments, arranged for jute bags and even obtained permission to use plastic bags! Here is the bureaucratic kink. Even though the reality stares one in the face that there are not enough jute bags, and there is no other option but to use plastic bags to save the grains, it needs permission of the government to carry out this common sense operation. Harsimrat Kaur Badal of Akali Dal and her colleagues in the party that farmers should get a better deal and that because of the grain glut the market prices are going down, and that government must do something to save and reward the farmers.
Speaker Meira Kumar adjourned the House for 10 minutes at 12.20 pm. Then Revti Raman of Samajwadi Party and others gathered in front of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's seats. Sharad Yadav too walked up to the seats of Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee. For a moment, even senior BJP leader L.K.Advani walked up to the other side.
When the House resumed at about 12.30, Mukherjee made a statement. He agreed that the concern expressed by the MPs was genuine and understandable. He accepted that due to record grain production, not enough storage space is available. He said generally the government, including the centre and the states, would buy up 30 per cent of the grain produced, while the rest was absorbed by the market. He said because of the enhanced minimu support price (MSP), there was demand for greater governmental share in the purchase of grains, and that this was causing a problem because as finance minister he has to shell out the money, and that he releases about Rs 50,000 crore. He said he was consulting the food ministry and the rural development ministry and trying to work out a solution. One of the solutions being considered was to give grain in lieu of payment of wages for the government's welfare programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Act (MNREGA), and that stored grain from last year will be given away so that space is created for the new grain. He also said that if need be jute bags will be imported from neighbouring countries to meet the demand.
There was more than poetic irony when BJP's Yashwant Sinha said initiating the debate on the Finance Bill in the afternoon, "anaaj rakhne ke liye godaam nahin hain, aur paet khaali hain (There are no godowns to store grain and there are empty stomachs)" to describe the paradoxical situation of plenty on the one side and hunger and poverty on the other.