Food wastage seems to be a hot topic today with the government even mulling to bring out legislation to limit portion size served in restaurants and hotels. Nobody can fault any one, government included, on the desire to control wastages. While there are no two opinions that food wastage needs to be stopped but the question is can the government do it by promulgating a law? Is it government’s job to decide on what should be the diameter of a hamburger bun or the thickness of a chapatti or the size of a helping on a plate? Does it have the resources and mechanisms to enforce such regulation? These are social issues that need to be sorted out with education and spread of social awareness. These cannot be enforced by promulgating laws and sending inspectors. Such an approach can only be counterproductive. No nation knows it better than India where inspector raj has been the bane of citizens for decades.
Wastage in any form has to be checked since it results in loss of resources. In our country we have many more pressing wastages that need to be addressed in the overall interest of the nation. The good part is that many of these need to be addressed through legislation and therefore fall under the realm of the government. So the government may be better advised to look in such areas instead of trying to regulate the size of a roti or the helping of rice served in millions of eateries across the nation.
First on the list is the need to stop wastage of time in the parliament when it is in session. Parliamentarians, the law makers, have proved themselves to be the biggest law breakers by wasting time that should have been spent in debating and finding solutions to the long list of issues that face the nation. Each minute of the parliament, when in session, should be profitable for the nation in some form or the other. On the contrary elected representatives stage walk outs or plan disruptions to prevent the house from working for days together. If a government cannot stop wastage of time in the parliament where there are just a few hundred members, how can it hope to regulate food portions across the nation in hundreds of thousands restaurants?
While on the subject of parliamentarians, there is no doubt that there is an imperative need to discipline our elected representatives as more often than not, many of them think they are above the law of the land. A large number have also been bitten by the VVIP bug and claim all sorts of privileges at the drop of a hat, cost or inconvenience to the citizens notwithstanding. So the powers to be cannot afford to waste any opportunity that comes to discipline errant lawmakers. Unfortunately all concerned including the Lok Sabha, Prime Minister, Speaker and Shiv Sena missed a golden opportunity when Mr Gaikwad was allowed to go scot free for an extremely uncouth and gutter like behaviour in a flight from Pune to Delhi. In a matter of days a TMC MP too followed suit in another flight. Once again an opportunity was wasted. Can the government control such wastages? Should the Prime Minister not have stepped in since he is the leader of the Lok Sabha where these two MPs work? The Prime Minister would have earned eternal gratitude of the nation if he had taken exemplary action against the erring parliamentarians – Shiv Sena or TMC’s response notwithstanding. Public rhetoric on nation building, commitment to the nation, honesty and integrity in all walks of life cannot be limited only to the common man on the street. It was a golden opportunity wasted by the Prime Minister to tell all elected representatives, at any level, that law of the land was as much applicable to them as anyone else in the country.
Is there any estimate of the national public time wasted due to delays in the courts where cases move at snail’s pace and can go on for decades? The authorities will give many reasons for the same. The sad part is that the list of excuses remains the same year after year. The wastage of national time and resources keeps increasing exponentially. Many lives have been wasted while waiting for justice for years. Similar situations prevail in many other government offices. There have been many improvements in last few years in some areas but a lot more needs to be done to save wastage of public time and money. Does this wastage not command a higher priority for the government than to decide on whether a plate should have four prawns or six?
Another very serious form of wastage is associated with corruption. To the credit of current government the feeling across the nation today is that corruption at higher levels, ministerial and top echelons of the government, is a thing of past. The NDA government and Prime Minister must be lauded for the same. Unfortunately the same character has not filtered down the line in most government departments where normal public is still harassed and made to run from pillar to post unless one is ready to part with some hard earned cash or offer some other gratification. This results in wastage of individual’s time and resources which he could use for more productive work to add to nation’s growth in his own small way. When multiplied by millions, this wastage reaches obnoxious levels. In the final analysis it is the nation that suffers. Should the government not look into this on war footing and officers at all levels ensure that within their charge a common citizen is not harassed or forced to part with gratifications that are against the law? Surely controlling this national waste should be more important for the government than to regulate the size of the glass in which a soft drink should be served.
Some of the reality shows on television unearth mind boggling talent from deep within India. This talent is totally home grown and reaches awe inspiring levels without the benefit of any real support in terms of money or facilities or infrastructure. What the reality TV unearths is only a tip of the iceberg. What about the bulk of such immense talent in different walks of life that goes waste without finding its real place in the society? If such talent is unearthed, given encouragement to grow and commercialised properly will it not add to the growth of the masses in rural and semi-rural India which are still reeking with poverty and devoid of the benefits of development that the nation has made in last seventy years? Will it not encourage more people to preserve their local cultures and other expertises to increase their avenues for growth? Will it not reduce the urban and rural divide in the nation and promote greater understanding? No one will disagree that controlling this wastage will pay more dividends to the society than to go after the quantity of food served on a platter in some restaurant?
Talking of talent, is continuing with reservations in government jobs and educational institutions not wastage of talent and merit of some others who do not enjoy the benefits of reservations? Can meritocracy be wasted to promote mediocrity? Is there any doubt that successive governments from 1947 have wasted both time and opportunities to provide adequate infrastructure and facilities to the weaker sections of the society to become competitive with others? Is there any doubt that with a view to cover their failures, successive governments have not only retained the reservation policies but actually enhanced them from time to time? ‘Let merit win’ has never been the catch line for our governments. Thus a lot of genuine talent and merit has been wasted over the years that would have added value to the nation. Is it not time to focus on curbing this wastage and instead make it a part of main stream India?
Recently there was an order banning sale and consumption of liquor within a distance of 500 meters on either side of any highway. What was the result? Overnight thousands of jobs were lost, authorities lost millions of rupees in revenues, people took to streets to protest, legitimate businesses suffered loss of revenues and many were bemused and wondered at the foolishness of the order. Was there wastage here? There certainly was in terms of thousands of restaurant workers, including suppliers, who sat twiddling their thumbs not knowing what hit them. Who was accountable for this wastage and loss of livelihoods? Surely the blame has to be taken by the government even if the judiciary passed the order. After all judiciary is also an arm of the government. It has been nearly two weeks and no solution appears to be in sight while the wastage keeps growing by the day. Streamlining of liquor vending is one thing but an ill thought out blanket ban in a hurriedly passed order smacks of an authoritarian approach bordering on foolhardiness. Some may call it misuse of authority but today when the word wastage is in vogue, one can safely say it is wastage of authority. Such wastage needs to be curbed in the interest of the nation as a whole. Can any government, however popular or powerful it may be, control what 1.3 billion Indians drink, eat or wear? If it does then it is living in a fool’s paradise or suffering from a mental stupor or may be the power has gone into the heads of those in authority.
Finally coming back to food and the wastage associated with same. The education for this starts at home in early years of one’s life. If one has learnt his lessons well during this period, chances are that he or she will never waste food – home, hotel or wherever. Beyond that education and social awareness are two tools that will help to make people understand the importance of not wasting food. For the record it may be prudent to understand that our government wastes colossal quantities of food grain in its stock yards due to mismanagement and inefficiencies in storage and distribution. In percentage terms about 6-8% of the total food grain produced is wasted every year. This wastage amounts to more than 20 million tonnes which could feed over a 100 million people for a year. Compare these figures with what the government wants to focus on and you know its priorities are certainly wrong.
Saroj Chadha, an engineering professional, is a successful entrepreneur. Having retired from the Indian Army after having served for over 23 years, he has also been a consultant for leading Indian and Multinational electrical companies. He lives in New Delhi.