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1.5 lakh workers protest food inflation on Delhi’s streets

1 March 2011

Trade unions organised a march to Parliament and a rally to protest food inflation which stands at 11.05%.

An estimated 1.5 lakh workers marched on the streets of Delhi and attended a rally on February 23, 2011, protesting increasing food prices and unemployment. The protesters marched to Parliament waving red flags, chanting slogans and carrying banners calling on the government to provide food security. ‘Prices will now kill the common man’, read one banner.

The protests were led by trade unions, including the All-India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) and the Centre for Industrial Trade Union (CITU). Unusually, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), which is backed by the governing Congress party, is also supporting the protests saying it wants to remind the government about its commitments to the poor.

“We get paid Rs 100-125 a day. How are we going to survive on this if prices are so high,” asked Kailash Sain who travelled to the capital from the western state of Rajasthan.

“We have come here so that our voices reverberate inside the house (Parliament) and they can see what pain the common man is going through,” said another demonstrator, Akhil Samamtray from western Orissa.

Food inflation has been consistently rising in India, pushing up household budgets. Prices of pulses, milk, wheat, rice and vegetables have gone up sharply. The most recent data shows annual food inflation at 11.05%, down from its high of nearly 20% in 2010. Food prices have knocked up the prices of other goods also. Inevitably, poorer people are more severely affected by food shortages in a country which is home to the largest number of the world’s hungry, has 42% of the world’s underweight children, and around half its children below the age of 5 are stunted.

Small demonstrations have already taken place in different parts of the country on the food issue. On February 1, 2011, villagers in Galsi, about 130 km northwest of Kolkata, held out empty plates as they demonstrated in front of the office of the block development officer, against the improper supply of food. Several political parties protested for almost a week in the city of Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh on February 4, marching in the streets and burning an effigy of the prime minister outside the office of the collector.

The government blames unseasonable rains, which destroyed standing crops, for the high food prices. But some experts say an agriculture sector that has been systematically ignored as the government chases its high GDP growth story is more likely to be the cause. The government has been criticised for not utilising the food stocks it already has — Food Corporation of India godowns have 5.7 crore tonnes of foodgrain which could be distributed at cheaper rates through the public distribution system.

In her address to the joint houses of Parliament on February 21, 2011, Indian President Pratibha Patil promised that the top priority of the government in 2011-12 would be to “combat inflation, in particular to protect the common man from the impact of rising food prices”.

If the price of oil increases, as is expected due to the unrest in the Middle East, transport costs will increase pushing food and commodity prices up further.

High food prices are a global concern. The global food price index climbed 15% between October 2010 and January 2011, according to the World Bank; wheat prices doubled during the same period.

Source: The Economic Times, February 24, 2011, February 23, 2011 Reuters, February 23, 2011

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