Food Security Or Scarcity? Protests Break Out In Kashmir Valley Against Rationalisation Of Subsidy26 December 2015
Srinagar: Protests have broken out in different parts of Kashmir against the government's move to implement the National Food Security Act (NFSA) in the state from February 2016. Protesters are claiming a large number of people will be deprived of rations at subsidised rates once NFSA is implemented. Over the past two weeks, angry residents have blocked roads and fought pitched battles with the police, demanding NFSA be rolled back. The Opposition and Hurriyat Conference have described the changes as an attempt to 'erode the special status of Jammu and Kashmir' under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. In Srinagar, the hub of the agitation, around 2.31 lakh people are likely to be affected by the Act. They will not only be ineligible for rations at the NFSA rate of Rs 3 per kilogram, but will also not be allowed to buy them at Rs 10 per kg, the rate for those above poverty line. However, the omission of a huge chunk of the population, including gazetted officers and businessmen, from the list of beneficiaries of government subsidy is not the only reason that has brought people out into the streets. Under NFSA, every person will be getting only five kg rice per month, against the existing limit of 35 kg per family. Since rice is the staple diet of Kashmiris, people are protesting that the NFSA-prescribed per capita limit is too low. The Hurriyat Conference (Moderate) chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has termed the act as 'inhuman and anti-people'. 'According to the new legislation, it is said that only five kilos of ration will be provided to each person. Earlier 35 kilos were provided to a family. This will force people into starvation,' Mirwaiz said. Prominent industry leader, Shakeel Qalander, told Firstpost that the act provides less than half the quantity of food grains to people than they actually consume. 'Under the Act, the people will be given five kg person, while in Kashmir every person consumes at least 10 kg of rice. The scheme doesn't cover 25 percent of the population who will be deprived of food grain because only 95 lakh will be provided rations, whereas we have a population of 1.25 crore as per the 2011 Census, and this has risen to nearly 1.3 crore today,' he said. Former chief minister and National Conference working president, Omar Abdullah, claimed that despite pressure from his former ally, the Congress, he was against the implementation of the Act during the previous dispensation. He said the PDP-BJP government is 'robbing' people of their right to bare minimum ration requirements. 'I did not allow the implementation of NFSA. I knew the Act was against the interests of the people,' Abdullah said, while addressing party workers in South Kashmir's Anantnag district last week. The PDP denied allegations that people will be deprived of rations because of NFSA. PDP leader and president of its youth wing, Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, said the National Conference is running short of issues with which to target the government, and they are creating a ruckus without proper information on the NFSA. 'Till now, the government was providing rations to only 99.47 lakh people. But now it will cover a population of 119.13 lakh ,' he said. However, there are many in Kashmir who feel that NFSA is a 'non-starter' for Kashmir. 'In the name of subsidy rationalisation, it is an act of irrationality. There is no median family size in Kashmir. Family size varies by region, mohalla and town. Given this non-uniformity, five kg of rice grain per person is not sufficient. It penalises many,' political commentator and Firstpost contributor Wajahat Qazi, said. Many argue that due to rapid urbanisation and ill-conceived development, the gap between demand and production of rice has increased over the last three decades. Given this gap, further control on supply will work to the detriment of people's welfare. 'NFSA is being implemented in Kashmir as an executive fiat, not through legislation or after legislative deliberations. This means that the peoples' representatives have not been taken into account,' Qazi said.