23June2017

Goa's Spirited Online Weekly Magazine.

Lion Roars – 26

October 14-20, 2013

No yeast rise for Goan Poders - 1

Ironic as it may sound but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) could take heed from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in the ongoing heated pao issue in Goa.  But let’s begin with a history lesson first.  President Anwar Sadat triggered riots when he cut the bread subsidy in 1977, while President Hosni Mubarak faced unrest in 2008 when the rising price of wheat caused shortages.  When Egyptians rose up against Mubarak’s rule two years ago, one of their signature chants went: “Bread, freedom and social justice”.

Brotherhood of Bread

Before they were kicked out of government, some 500 NGO’s had begun delivering pita bread (the Egyptian staple), not as an act of charity but to sidestep the problems in the existing system.  Egypt even has government-owned bakeries. 
In August 2013 the Jordan (where bread prices are the lowest in the world) government confirmed that it would use a smart card mechanism to direct bread subsidies to Jordanians.

The Goa government’s (rather Parrikar’s own) farcical subsidy scheme which in the first place is cumbersome and therefore of no help at all to the beneficiaries; will also not help bakers because they claim the price of firewood has gone up from Rs 6,000 to Rs 21,000 at present.  And could rise further.  It is also cumbersome because there is no single-window system to implement it.  But, the most oppressive part of the Goa Traditional Bakers (Poders) Subsidy Scheme is that it holds a gun to their heads because it places a moratorium on the price of pao for five years.  The Association of Goan Bakers by pre-agreement has been selling the 50 gm pao at Rs 3 for the past one year.  Unlike other vendors/traders who use weighing scales that are often dubious or fixed, I have never heard of a poder shortchanging his customers.

Truly Dickensian

It’s not that Goa’s BJP Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has a strong distaste for subsidies.  His act of removing the five per cent VAT on petrol was the underpinning factor to the BJP’s win in the 2012 elections.  As did his unfulfilled promise of doing away with the house tax at the panchayat level.  On October 9 (a day after World Bread Day was observed here), bowing to pressure from the powerful private bus lobby he rolled back the passenger tax on passenger buses (local, inter-state, intra-state and maxi-cabs) which he increased in the 2012-13 budget.

Then again Parrikar may be fundamentally hostile to traditional livelihoods as his Beach Shack Policy 2013-16 has proved.  His policy stipulates that 90 per cent of shack licenses must be reserved for entrepreneurs with three or more years of experience, the remaining ten per cent for those with less than three years experience.  A policy that has not gone down well with many who want to be in the business.

Traditional bread-making has for five centuries been dominated by the Catholic community, handed down over generations often with families working as a unit with the precision of assembly line production.  A poder’s bakery is straight out of a Charles Dickens novel.  It (mostly part of his home) is full of flour dust and hot from the dissipating heat of the oven, for almost the entire day.  He has no political patronage or sponsorship of any kind, no subsidised loans or freebees.  Nothing.

And yet, his political masters determine both the standard weight of the bread and maximum retail price (MRP); whereas there is none for fish whose vendors hold consumers to ransom at the drop of a hat, like when there was a brief ban on beef which in the first place was orchestrated by the pro-BJO Govansh Raksha Abhiyaan whose adviser till then was Parrikar himself.  In fact, the working hours of a poder does not give him the time to knock on the doors of the disbursing agency GHRSSIDC (Goa Handicrafts Rural & Small Scale Industries Development Corporation) to get the niggardly subsidy of Rs 4 per kg.

Some poders even deliver bread to government ministers with their swanky cars (paid for by your tax money) on a bicycle handed down from generation to generation.

The favoured one

While there is no maximum retail price for fish, a total of 660 beneficiaries got subsidized diesel in 2010-11, 689 in 2011-12 and 682 in 2012-13.  Total cost: Rs 912,54,000.  In other words the consumer starts paying for his staple food even before it hits the market.  The beneficiaries of your  tax money was: The Mandovi Fishermen Marketing Co-op Society, Malim; Cutbona Fisheries Co-op Society, Velim; South Goa Mechanised Boat Owners Co-op Society, Velim; Zuari Fishermen Boat Owners Marketing Co-op Society, Vasco da Gama; Vasco Fishermen Boat Owners Marketing Co-op Society, Vasco da Gama; Xapora Boat Owners Fishermen’s Co-op Society, Chapora.  Separately, trawler owners drew 15,750 litres of diesel in 2012-13 from a single pump at Cortalim.

By comparison, poders get a subsidy of Rs 4 per kg for the first 50 kg of maida they buy; Rs 2 per kg for between 50-100 kg; and Rs 1 for between 100-150 kg.

(Continued next week)