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12000 Grain Banks to be set up in India in the next few years

June 12, 2007

Grain banks are an ancient concept that are being revived and put to good use in India today. They can reduce starvation deaths and malnutrition, and free poor people from bonded labour. One of the reasons why landless labourers face starvation is because the land owners from whom they borrow grain force them to pay a high interest of half a kg of grain for each kg borrowed. If they cannot repay, they are forced into bonded labour. Its the stuff of horror, but yes, in some parts of rural india it can be the stuff of reality.

Well, the grain bank scheme has helped the people to feed themselves, and not depend on the landowners.

One example is one from the state of Bihar – 70, 000 people from 35 villages in the Paliganj subdivision of Patna district have benefited from this scheme. The scheme has been initiated by an NGO (non-governmental organsisation), Ekta Parishad. Under the scheme, each village was provided with Rs 5000 as well as containers worth Rs 2500 to store the grain. The money was used to buy the grain…but each member contributed 5 kilos of grain to the common pool. And when in need, they borrowed. Sure, there was interest to pay…but its been stipulated by the government that it cannot be more than 10% of the grain taken as a loan taken. And if the grain is replaced within within three months – the interest is to be 5%!

These village grain banks schemes are very much part of the National Common Minimum Programme of our government. There is a government mandate to establish grain banks in chronically food shortage areas. These areas can be drought areas, deserts or tribal areas. In the next couple of years, the government (with the help of self-help groups and NGO’s) plans to set up as many as 12,000 Grain Banks in the country! 13 state governments have been asked to identify the food scarcity areas.

Who are the people who face death and malnutrition in India? Well, tribals for one. They are uneducated and earn barely enough to survive. They usually have zero assets and earn enough for just that day. Any small disaster like a drought or a private tragedy like illness or death of an earning member and they are in deep trouble. They have nothing to fall back on. This first forces them into debt, and then…starvation.

Only ready availibility of food can help them through such a crises, which is often temporary. The ultimate aim is to make the tribal villages (with over 50 per cent tribals) run the scheme in self-help groups.

Its a fantastic scheme really and one hopes that the state governments in question have enough will to implement it.

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