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Photographer's Note

Totally dependent on monsoon precipitation for its agriculture, Bengal used to have periodic famines. In the last century, some of the hardest famines were said to be more due to problems in the distribution of food and essential commodities than to actual drops in production (as first popularized as a policy guidance by Dr. B. R. Sen, Secretary General of the UN's FAO in the 1960s, and cogently argued by developmental economists noted among whom is the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen). In 1961, after a severe drought in West Bengal, Prafullya Sen, then chief minister of the state, initiated a massive food distribution program in which every person in each household in certain vulnerable districts of W. Bengal would have a ration card, against which certified grocers would sell at a subsidized rate a certain quantity of rice, cooking oil, sugar, fuel oil and a few other essential items. Selling of these items outside of the rationing system was prohibited in these areas. When it was instituted, there was a huge opposition, the business community was antagonized, and a black market system started a parallel economy. Prafullya Sen lost his seat, though he remained respected and active in politics even decades later. However, the policy, though somewhat modified, continued through succeeding administrations and is still in force, though with reforms and better control and enforcement; since 1965 W. Bengal has not had a disastrous famine.

The social impact of the rationing system was immediate and interesting. It guaranteed the availability of food to low income households, especially in villages and subarban areas. But it also meant long lines of folks at certain 'ration shops'. Families were divided into two classes: those whose children would stand in the line, and those who would send a hired help to stand in the line. The cultural proletariats and the cultural elites.

Here is one such line in a village, during a monsoon rain.

[I note that much remains to be done. Since writing the above, this article has come to my notice, which draws attention to disturbing regressive trends in W. Bengal since the mid 1990s]

bombilla, michiels, KevRyan, prezntime, SamB, keribar, kajspice, prantik has marked this note useful

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Additional Photos by Animesh Ray (AnimeshRay) Gold Star Critiquer/Silver Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 687 W: 47 N: 845] (9083)
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