The rice trade
Government has started raiding traders
who sell rice above the stipulated price. It is a timely move.
However, it is an exercise that should be the norm always for
where profit is concerned traders have no limit. Nor is trade
humane or benevolent.
Though price controls are a thing of the past under the open
economy that is so much cherished the government was forced to
enforce it to prevent traders fleeing innocent consumers.
The retail traders, on the other hand, complain that they are
unable to sell rice at the fixed prices because of shortage of
stocks. It is also hinted that there is a rice mafia that
control the supply to maintain high prices.
This state of affairs originated with the closure of the
Paddy Marketing Board. That is why the government has
resurrected it. The best way to handle the situation is for the
Paddy Marketing Board to purchase and maintain buffer stocks of
rice and release them to the market when supply runs short.
That, however, requires several other measures. The farmers
often prefer to sell paddy to the private sector for they give a
better farm price than the government. It is also less
troublesome to sell rice to the private sector as they do not
impose stringent conditions. Further, many traders advance money
to the farmers so that they are under obligation to sell the
crop to them at the harvesting time.
What is required is therefore a holistic approach to the
problem of assuring ample rice stocks at the Paddy Marketing
Board. Farmers should be guaranteed loans at reasonable rates
and a guaranteed price for their crop depending on the market
situation. This requires monitoring the market trends and making
suitable adjustments in the purchasing prices.
In the past the Paddy Marketing Board was hampered by not
only the lack of adequate cash but also the lack of storage
facilities to store substantial stocks. Much has to be done to
improve the storage and transport of rice. Poor storage and
transport facilities tend to affect sale price too.
The high cost of production and the low technological level
of rice production too affect the farmer. The low technological
level makes productivity low thereby yielding minimal profit for
The long-term use of chemical fertilizers has also lowered
the fertility of the soil. Therefore, it is time to change over
to organic agriculture on a large scale. The application of high
technology, better water management and the use of
bio-fertilizers too should be explored.
Hence, the question of assuring food security to the
population, especially to low income earners needs solutions
that go beyond the realm of trade or circulation. It encompasses
all spheres of production, distribution and exchange. It
involves the development of agro-technology and the development
of agro-industries as well as a system for provision of easy
credit at micro and medium levels.
The Indian Parliament recently passed legislation that would
ensure a minimum of one-third representation in Parliament. It
is a giant step towards gender equality in India.
Compared to India Sri Lanka is far behind. Though it could
boast of producing the first woman Prime Minister and having a
woman President, they both came to that position not because
they are women but because they happen to be the widow and
daughter of a slain Prime Minister.
Except for the women Parliamentarians in the old Left and the
new Left (which has also become old now) women have risen to the
level of an MP or a Minister principally through their kinship
to a male politician.
It is sad that political parties too have not accommodated
women in leading positions. At most they accommodate them in
their women's wings that have no decision making power.
The same is true of trade unions and youth organisations
affiliated to political parties. They all are under male
It is high time that this defect is remedied. The place of
women in society is an index of its development. It is not
enough to celebrate the International Women's Day with hosannas
The next Parliament should take up this issue and bring
legislation to give a fair deal to the fairer sex.