Lavish weddings targeted to reduce food wastage
New Delhi: Indians planning lavish wedding parties may face pressure to slim down their menus, as the government considers curbing celebrations that highlight a growing gulf between rich and poor.
Food Minister K.V. Thomas said a panel would consider limiting the number of guests who can be invited to weddings and other social events, as well as the dishes they serve. Neighbouring Pakistan restricts such revellers to one plate of food, he said, something India could emulate.
The government is reacting after soaring food prices caused nationwide protests and dented the popularity of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Wedding planners and policy experts said the proposals would be impossible to enforce and fail to address the root cause of food insecurity in India, home to 42 per cent of the world's undernourished children, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute.
"It's absolutely ridiculous, it's a reactionary, poorly thought through, populist measure which I don't think is implementable," said Ashish Abrol, a former Deutsche Bank AG wealth manager and employee of International Business Machines Corp, who started the wedding planning firm Big Indian Wedding last year.
Consumer-price inflation at nine per cent is the highest in the Group of 20 nations after Argentina and Russia.
The Food Minister said up to 30 per cent of food was wasted at weddings in India. About 40 per cent of India's fruit and vegetables rot before they could be sold because of a lack of cold storage facilities and poor transport infrastructure, according to government figures.
"To think that it is going to have an impact on the food crisis is completely foolish," said Biraj Patnaik, a campaigner for securing food rights for the poor and an adviser to the Supreme Court.
Foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Carrefour SA, barred from selling goods directly to Indian consumers, argued they could improve the quality of the supply chain if restrictions were relaxed. Regional political parties within Singh's ruling alliance oppose such a move, saying it would threaten the livelihood of millions of small shopkeepers and drive down farmers' incomes. India ranked 67 out of 84 nations, below Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Pakistan, on the food policy institute's Global Hunger Index compiled last year.
Indian middle-class weddings are renowned for their overindulgence and growing wealth in the country, fuelled by economic expansion that may reach 9.25 per cent this fiscal year, which has led to more extravagant celebrations.
Kanwar Singh Tanwar, a businessman and a member of Singh's Congress party, invited 30,000 people to celebrate his son's marriage to a fellow politician's daughter, it was reported in March.
Restrictions - Keep the menu simple
In 1997 the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif imposed curbs on the amount of food that could be served at weddings as part of austerity measures. Sharif's brother, Shahbaz Sharif, imposed similar curbs in Pakistan's Punjab province when he was elected chief minister in 2008.
Hosts can serve a curry, rice and a sweet dish, according to Siddiq-ul-Farooq, a spokesman for the Sharifs' Pakistan Muslim League. Parties must end by 11pm. "This law is working in Punjab and people are benefitting from it," Farooq said. "Poor people now have a very good reason to avoid overspending on these occasions. In the past, they were forced to follow the rich under social pressure."
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has urged party colleagues to avoid displays of wealth, including telling officials to fly economy class, cut down on phone bills and restrict use of government-provided vehicles.