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“Hunger Free India is Our Goal” says Minister Shanta Kumar

Ranjani Saigal

India’s union minister for food and distribution, Honorable Shanta Kumar stated, “Hunger free India is our goal and we are implementing schemes to achieve this”. The minister gave a speech at the Aroma restaurant in Peabody, MA where he addressed a group of Indian Americans. The talk was sponsored by FISA (Friends of India Society of America) and IDRF (India Development and Relief Fund). Dr. Chandrakant Panse from FISA, and Mr Ajay Belambe from IDRF coordinated the event.

Even though his visit to the Boston area was for personal reasons, he made an effort to meet with people here. “Our prime minister urges all of us to keep in touch with all expatriate Indians wherever we go. We all are extremely proud of the expatriates who have done so well wherever they have settled. All of you have truly illuminated India’s name,” he said.

Mr. Shanta Kumar has a very impressive resume. Primarily he is a writer who has published twelve books, all of which have received critical acclaim. Later, after spending time in prison during the emergency, he stood for elections and became the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. Recounting his first few days a chief minister the minister said "I had just got out of prison and within days I had become a chief minister. My question then was what should I be doing now. The first picture that came to my mind was that of the people of my village. We had to trudge long distances to get drinking water and the water used to be rationed. I was determined to solve this hardship and worked towards bringing drinking water to every town in Himachal Pradesh and I am pleased to say that I was successful.”

The minister was extremely proud that India today has excess production of grain. From being importers of grain just a few years ago, India today is the 7th largest exporter of grains. As the Union Minister of food and distribution , he feels grateful to have an opportunity to do something about creating a hunger-free India. He has implemented several schemes including the Anthyodaya Annayojana that provides grains free of cost to those people who have been identified as the "poorest of the poor".

“Our approach to distributing grains is a focused and targeted one. We identify the needs of the various groups and try to reach them in appropriate ways so that we can create maximum impact. For those who are under the poverty line but who have some income we provide grains at a very low cost. To others who cannot afford that we provide grains free of cost.” When asked about the programs getting lost because of lack of population control, the minister said the government understands the grave nature of this problem. “The government is working with its allies to find a viable solution to the problem and we hope to have some programs in place soon,” he said.

When asked about the situation in India on the war front, the minister said, “The December 13th attack on the Lok Sabha was the final straw. India has tolerated terrorism for a long time but we have reached our limit. We will do everything in our power to stop terrorism. If President Mussaraf translates his words into action, we should be very optimistic about avoiding war.“ On the Kashmir issue the minister said, “The events of the recent past have brought a reduction in terrorism in that state. We hope peace will come soon, so that we can then focus on rebuilding Kashmir.”

The question of the “biased news coverage of CNN” on the recent events was brought to the attention of the minister. CNN has reported that while it would like to be fair in its coverage, the Indian embassy does not respond in a timely manner to its requests, which makes it impossible for CNN to tell the Indian side of the story. The minister promised to look into the matter.

He concluded his talk by sharing his personal mission in life, which is to build a Super Specialty hospital in Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh. He has donated a 100% of his salary towards the construction of the hospital. The people of the district raised about a crore of rupees for this effort. The most moving story was of a young girl who received an award of Rs. 10,000 for doing well at school. She donated the entire amount to the cause because a friend of hers had just died while he was being taken to a big city for lack of a good hospital in the district.

Promoting Good News – Lokvani Reporter's Note

I was very impressed when I heard about the schemes that the government had put into place to handle hunger. I read the Indian newspapers rather regularly and I was surprised that I had not heard of these schemes. I was informed that the announcements could be found in all newspapers dated December 26th 2000.

Feeling quite bad that I had indeed missed this positive announcement I went into the archives of an Indian newspaper to locate the article. After some amount of search I was able to find the article buried in the third page under the title “Full funding for new schemes: PM” while the front page news was “Vajpayee takes a dig at Shiv Sena”.

I was also disappointed to note that the reporter, put so much negativism into the announcement. His skepticism about the announcement was obvious in the report. No wonder I missed it.

I think we do a grave disservice to our nation by promoting negative news while viewing every good action of the government with skepticism. I think this does not motivate good people to do good work and almost ensures failure of every well-intentioned scheme.

I hope the people, media and the government work together to enhance the good news so that it may indeed have a chance to succeed.

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