Much of the focus of those opposing the Food Security Bill, understandably, has been on its costs and the huge leakages that are reckoned at 40-50%—while the government has estimated an annual cost of Rs 1.2 lakh crore or thereabouts for the Bill, CACP chief Ashok Gulati estimates it will cost R6 lakh crore over the first 3 years. Gulati includes the costs of building storage facilities, something vital given that FCI has at least a 50% shortage in storage facilities.
What is even more problematic, if you optimistically assume the government will cut other subsidies to accommodate the Food Bill, is what it will do to the country’s water table. Over three fourths of the area of Punjab, for instance, is over-exploited—it is telling, even if a coincidence, that Punjab has asked for a R3,700 crore grant from the Centre after the Lok Sabha passed the food Bill, to help it recharge ground water. In an ideal world, foodgrains production needs to be shifted from the north Indian grain bowl to areas like Bengal where the need for water is a lot less. But this requires creating new irrigation facilities, getting high-yielding seeds in place … all possible, but something that will take both time and money, money the government hasn’t budgeted for. Around 70% of rice procurement is done from Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and UP and 80% of wheat is procured from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh. The interim solution is to keep getting more wheat and rice out of states like Punjab and Haryana that are already water-stressed and losing productivity as a result of this. Once the flush of victory from getting the Food Bill through wears off, these realities will have to be dealt with.