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Zip it. What govt does with rice is national security

13 December 2023

The Government of India has refused to publicly disclose details of the process by which frequent changes were made to our rice export policy this year. Don’t people have the right to know all the details about such mundane matters? It’s only rice for heaven’s sake, not Rafale aircraft!

Venkatesh Nayak wakes up every morning thinking someone somewhere is hiding something

More than 50% of us depend on rice for sustenance -- be it as a source of livelihood and/or as a part of our daily diet. Our farmer sisters and brothers contribute to about 40% of the global rice trade. Nevertheless, the Government of India has refused to publicly disclose details of the process by which frequent changes were made to our rice export policy this year.

In July, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) announced a total ban on the export of all non-Basmati rice varieties, resulting in panic-buying in several Asian and African countries. The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) announced that this ban will help stabilise prices in India because repeatedly hiking export duties was not stemming the tide of grain outflow, which had tripled over the 2022 figures. Laudable decision made in the larger public interest, indeed. But who made this decision and based on what kind of material evidence?

In response to my first RTI application, DGFT said, according to the information received from the DCA, a Committee of Ministers took this decision but it did not have any other records. So, a second RTI application was filed with the DCA seeking the names of these ministers, copies of study reports and consultations held with farmers, state governments and other stakeholders prior to and after the ban was imposed and the related file notings.

This RTI application became football for the babus. First, it was repeatedly passedbetween the DCA and the Food Corporation of India -- four times. Then, the DCA booted it to the Department of Food and Public Distribution (DFPD), which dutifully kicked it over to the Commerce Department. They, in turn, threw it at the DGFT and the DFPD. Both knocked it back to the DCA. It has been lying with the Directorate of Vanaspati, Vegetable Oils and Fats(!) since late October, with no further movement. Hope the RTI application is cooking slowly to become pulao or biriyani.

Meanwhile, in September, the government announced multiple relaxations to the ban, allowing exports to some countries, starting with the sale of 75,000 MT of rice to the UAE, through its latest blue-eyed boy -- the National Cooperative Exports Ltd. (NCEL). I filed a third RTI application with the DGFT seeking details of the competent authority who permitted this relaxation, copies of the related correspondence between India and the UAE, the price at which grain was purchased here, the names of the suppliers, the sale price in the UAE, and the names of their buyers.

As the DGFT sat still on this RTI, I filed an appeal against the silence. The footballresumed, with them transferring all questions but one to the DCA. They refused to divulge details of buyers in the UAE in order to protect those buyers’ commercial interest! Readers may ask me -- why not eat biriyani at home quietly instead, like a good boy.

Cooperatives Minister Amit Shah announced recently that exportable food grains will be purchased from farmers at the minimum support price and that 50% of the profits from the export trade will be shared with them through NCEL. Don’t people have the right to know all the details about such mundane matters? It’s only rice for heaven’s sake, not Rafale aircraft!

First came electoral bonds to guarantee secrecy for the corporates and the ultra-rich to make large-sized donations to political parties. Now the regime of sarkari secrets is expanding to cover grain traders here and abroad. Who’s next in line who has to be hidden and protected from the citizens of India, Mother of Democracy?

Source : deccanherald

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