Friday, October 29, 2010

Rotting food & food security of migrant workers

Umi Daniel

“We eat Kanki for 6 months while we were in the brick kilns” and eat rice when we are back in our village, says Daimanti who is among thousands of poor people come to work in the brick kilns in Andhrapradehs. Kanki in western Orissa dialect meaning broken rice and mostly used as poultry feed in Andhrapradesh. The chicken feed in the poultry farm is further fortified through adding nutritious ingredients like dry fish, maize, sorghum, bajra and other concentration of vitamin and protein to make the chicken healthy. However, the worker in the brick kilns can’t afford to have the luxury of fortified vitamin or protein in their meal rather eats the broken rice by adding water, salt and raw onions. In Andrapradesh when we ran schools for the brick kiln children, the first thing we insisted with the government is to have school meal programme for the brick kiln children. And within a week the government expanded the coverage of mid day meal to the migrant oriya children. The cook engaged in the school meal programme got astonished to see the quantity of food Oriya children eat in comparison to their telugu children studying at the next door. While the cook calculates rice at 80gm for the local children for one time meal, for Oriya children she measures 100-120 gm except for Monday when she puts some extra rice knowing well that the demand for food on the first day of the week is unusual. Why the demand for food on Monday is more? Is it because the school is closed on Sunday and the child has to eat kanki twice unlike other days when the child get midday meal. I personally went to the school on Monday to observe the midday meal and could feel the young children’s hunger which is quite noticeable during the lunch hour.

Any fast emerging economic growth often demands huge skilled and unskilled workforces who are engaged to build the monument of corporate, public and government infrastructure. Today, millions of workers who are engaged in building the fast growing infrastructure and the growing economy of India are living under extreme forms of hunger and starvation. The migrant workers who move from one place to another get completely excluded from accessing subsidies rice, mid day meal, nutritious food for infant and other social and food security.

While the FCI The Food Corporation of India is a proud owner of 60 million MT of food grain in its warehouse and with conservative estimate 10% of the food grain every year is lost due to poor management, corruption and maladministration. On 12th of August, the Honorable Supreme Court expressed its anguish as come down heavily pertaining to the rotting of food grain in open field The Supreme Court appointed Commissioner on right to food says 50,000 MT of food grain has damaged because of poor storing. On the other hand, the government is yet to decide as to how the food will be distributed to the people, should it be given free or with low cost? Today there are millions of people who are vulnerable and want a decent meal for them and their families. The food grain in India is rotting in the open field and the debate is whether the same will be given free of cost or no cost to the people. While, millions of people like the workers in the brick kiln don’t get adequate food and suffer severe forms of malnutrition, why we don’t provide them a day cooked food at the worksite with subsidies cost.

The NAC ( National Advisory Council) of the UPA has recently has in principle agreed to expand the PDS access to 75% of the people who are living in both rural and urban area. Although the number of people who will be covered under the proposed food security Act is less than the actual, however, it is a welcome step and has the necessary ingredient to bring in a large number of excluded communities under its fold. It is yet to be understand as to how the groups such as migrant workers will be able to get covered under the Act and one does expect a lot of policy dialogue and spade work for identifying, tracking, monitoring and targeting the migrant to access a wide range of food schemes both in origin, transit and destinations within districts and inter-state.


  1. Having studied in Orissa, in its most backward areas and it affluent parts I think the single most determinant factor which can eliminate poverty from the poorer districts is the division of the state into smaller administrative units. The rich and powerful from Cuttack, Puri, BBSR consider and treat the trials and tribulations of the have nots of Koraput-Kalahandi districts as aberrations and not as human issues. The vast resources are plundered for the well being of these affluent people and do not percolate down to the poor and needy- the son of the soil.

  2. Thanks Venu for your comments. The government has carved out 4 districts out of Koraput. Last one decade, no remarkable change being noticed. You are right; the regional disparities are still very much visible and in practice in Orissa. Importantly, the political will and vision in Orissa is completely missing and call for change.