From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much.
Mains level : Paper 3- Ensuring the food supply lines are not disrupted in the lockdown and suggestions to ensure it.
The government must ensure that people don’t go hungry and take measures to make sure that people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
Need for the package to compensate losses
- Welfare package: The government has announced relief measures. Last week, the Finance Minister announced a welfare package of Rs 1.7 lakh crore.
- This is too small to cope with the onslaught of the virus.
- How much a comprehensive package would cost? A package to compensate all losses, including business losses, should amount to at least Rs 5 to 6 lakh crore, if not more.
- How will the government find funds for this package?
- Funds accrued as a result of oil price crash: The windfall gains that have accrued to it as a result of the crash in crude oil prices could come in handy.
- Diver all the subsidies and development funds: The government could divert all subsidies and some development funds to fund this package and ask the country’s corporate leaders to help with funds.
- Issue clarion call for voluntary donation: The prime minister could even issue a clarion call to those with a fixed income (say above Rs 50,000/month) to voluntarily donate at least 10 per cent of their salaries to fund the battle against the virus.
Focus on supply lines of food and ways to achieve it
- Why good food supply line matters? The government must do to ensure that people don’t go hungry and the measures it must take to make sure people don’t crowd a few outlets, increasing the chances of the virus spreading.
- The government has announced that the beneficiaries of the public distribution system can avail three months’ ration at one go.
- The challenge of delivery: The challenge is to ensure that fair price shops deliver the provisions in an orderly manner and their supply lines remain intact.
- Home delivery option: Home (street) delivery of these provisions, to avoid crowding, is a good option.
- Roping in civil society: This is also an occasion to rope in civil society. NGOs, resident welfare associations, religious organisations and paramilitary forces can be engaged for orderly and safe distribution of food — both pre-cooked and fresh.
- NGOs with experience in food preparation and distribution, such as Akshaya Patra, could guide local authorities.
- People involved in this endeavour should be provided with safety gears.
- The challenge of supplying perishables: These perishables-like fruits, vegetables and milk- must be sold in a packaged form in mobile vans. The weekly markets need to be temporarily suspended lest they spread the virus.
- Vegetable vendors can work with civil society organisations as well as e-commerce players to do this job in a safe manner.
- Retail distribution lines: Retail distribution lines need to be seamlessly linked to wholesale supply lines.
- Buffer stocks: The government godowns are overflowing with wheat and rice — about 77 million metric tonnes (MMT) on March 1, against a buffer stock norm of 21.4 MMT on April 1.
- How to manage rabi season procurement? Procurement operations for rabi crops are around the corner.
- Training and safety measures: The FCI and other procuring agencies need to be trained about safety measures and supplied safety gear.
- Providing incentives to farmers for staggered selling: Farmers could be given Rs 50/quintal per month as an incentive to stagger bringing their produce to the market — say after May 10.
- They will also need to be screened, given training and equipped with safety gear.
Challenge of mandi operations for fresh produce in large mandis
- This pertains to mandi operations for fresh produce in large APMC mandis like Azadpur in Delhi and Vashi near Mumbai.
- These mandis are usually overflowing with fruits and vegetables and the labour force at these centres usually handles the produce without safety gears.
- The challenge of screening and providing safety kits to these workers is doubly daunting. The country is not fully prepared in this respect.
- The safety of workers in mandis — and other workers who handle agricultural produce — should be accorded as much priority as the safety of frontline health warriors.
- Suspend the APMC Act: We should also use this opportunity to suspend the APMC Act and encourage NGOs, civil society and corporate houses to directly procure from farmers.
Issue of poultry and maize farmers
- Sharp fall in poultry items: In such times, prices of essential food items are known to shoot up. But in India, prices of food items like chicken meat and eggs have registered a sharp fall.
- In Delhi’s Gazipur Mandi, for example, the price of broiler chicken has fallen from Rs 55/kg in January 2020 to Rs 24/kg in March.
- This has also pushed the maize prices down as poultry is largely fed packaged maize.
- The government may have to think of compensating poultry and maize farmers in due course.
When things settle, it will be worth knowing how the virus spread from Wuhan to Iran, Italy, Washington, India and other parts of the world. Which organisation or nation failed to blow the whistle and alert the world in time? Was it China’s failure? Or that of WHO? Or was it the failure of all governments around the world to respond quickly to the outbreak? We need better global governance for pandemics to avert the next crisis.