Eradicating Hunger from India

food securityProviding healthy, hygienci and nutrious food for all citizens is the biggest challenge for the government. This can be achieved only by increasing the food production multi-fold and plugging the loopholes in the supply chain. Either the purchasing power of everyone should be increased by providing high income or government should transact cash through nationaliProviding healthy, hygienci and nutrious food for all citizens is the biggest challenge for the government. This can be achieved only by increasing the food production multi-fold and plugging the loopholes in the supply chain. Either the purchasing power of everyone should be increased by providing high income or government should transact cash through nationalised banks for the poorer people. This can be achieved by providing a smart card. The UPA II should expedite this process through UIC and remove hunger from the map of India. Chaitanya Kalbag writes in The Times of India (3 July 2009) I remember standing in long queues at ration shops in Calcutta, Madras and Delhi when i was younger. Lines for food were a part of everyday life. You got substandard rice and dirty, large-grained sugar. The majority of Indians lived on rationed rice, sugar, kerosene, palmolein and even cloth. My children are the first generation to not experience food rationing. It is interesting that you see fewer queues in India today. But don’t think for a moment that we are a land of plenty. You see fewer queues because there are far more ghosts. The Green Revolution did fend off famine, but the definition of famine is very subjective. I was reminded of the fragility of India’s food situation this past week as the clangour about the delayed monsoon began to get deafening. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar assured the people that there were ample foodgrain stocks. Probably very true and comforting if you are talking to real people, not ghosts. The trouble is that our ration shops (there are half a million of them) supply wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to a lot of people who don’t exist. The government estimates that there are 65.2 million people below the poverty line (BPL) and so entitled to rations of 20 kg of foodgrains a month at half the “economic cost”. But there are actually more than 80 million ration cards issued to BPL families. That is not all. The government has issued a total of 223 million ration cards against a total estimated 180 million households. In other words, there are at least 43 million ghost cards. Reportedly, prisoners in one US state get only two square meals a day three days a week. “This is inhumane,” a newspaper editorial said. Over here in India, the government says blandly: “A National Sample Survey Exercise points towards the fact that about 5 per cent of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day”. That is 60 million people. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana aims to help the truly destitute by selling them up to 35 kg of foodgrains a month ^ rice at Rs 2 and wheat at Rs 3 a kg. As of April 2008, the government had identified 2,42,755 “poorest of the poor” families. The UPA government has taken power almost exactly midway through the 11th five-year Plan. Next Monday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee might want to address some of the concerns spelled out in the Plan documents. “There are large errors of exclusion and inclusion and ghost cards are common,” the Planning Commission says, adding that “leakages” are common ^ higher than 75 per cent in Bihar and Punjab. During 2003-04, it estimates that eight million tonnes of foodgrains out of 14 million allotted to BPL families never reached them. “For every 1 kilogram that was delivered to the poor, Government of India had to issue 2.23 kilograms” of foodgrains. These figures have almost certainly worsened over the past year as the economy slowed down. And this is happening at a time when foodgrain prices have been rising steadily, despite misleading data that shows that India’s official measure of inflation, the wholesale price index (WPI), is now slightly negative. Although experts say the WPI is a more reliable, broader measure, the consumer price index, which takes in what the aam aadmi buys everyday, has put inflation at over 10 per cent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Higher prices hit the poor hardest. Statistics show that in rural India, the poor spend close to half their incomes on food, and higher food prices are deepening malnutrition. Higher prices also mean changes in food habits. Cereal consumption has been falling steadily in rural India ^ from 15.3 kg per capita per month in 1972-73 to 13.4 kg in 1993-94 and 12.12 kg in 2004-05. This would not have been alarming if the poor were consuming more of other foods like milk, meat, vegetables and fruits. Over a 20-year period, the Planning Commission says, per capita consumption of calories and protein has steadily declined in India. The calorie norm for the rural poor was set at 2,400 calories a day, and rural India’s calorie consumption has dropped to 2,047 calories from 2,221. In urban India, cereal consumption has fallen less precipitously, from 11.3 kg in 1973-74 to 10.6 kg in 1993-94 and 9.94 kg in 2004-05. No wonder one-third of India’s adult population in 2005-06 had a body mass index below 18.5, the cut-off for malnutrition, or that India accounts for about half the developing world’s low-body-weight babies, and a very high rate of anaemia among women and girls. The new government has said it will push a Food Security Act. What those 60 million forever-hungry people need is nutritious food, and clean drinking water. Pawar and Mukherjee have their work cut out for them. sed banks for the poorer people. This can be achieved by providing a smart card. The UPA II should expedite this process through UIC and remove hunger from the map of India. Chaitanya Kalbag writes in The Times of India (3 July 2009) I remember standing in long queues at ration shops in Calcutta, Madras and Delhi when i was younger. Lines for food were a part of everyday life. You got substandard rice and dirty, large-grained sugar. The majority of Indians lived on rationed rice, sugar, kerosene, palmolein and even cloth. My children are the first generation to not experience food rationing. It is interesting that you see fewer queues in India today. But don’t think for a moment that we are a land of plenty. You see fewer queues because there are far more ghosts. The Green Revolution did fend off famine, but the definition of famine is very subjective. I was reminded of the fragility of India’s food situation this past week as the clangour about the delayed monsoon began to get deafening. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar assured the people that there were ample foodgrain stocks. Probably very true and comforting if you are talking to real people, not ghosts. The trouble is that our ration shops (there are half a million of them) supply wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene to a lot of people who don’t exist. The government estimates that there are 65.2 million people below the poverty line (BPL) and so entitled to rations of 20 kg of foodgrains a month at half the “economic cost”. But there are actually more than 80 million ration cards issued to BPL families. That is not all. The government has issued a total of 223 million ration cards against a total estimated 180 million households. In other words, there are at least 43 million ghost cards. Reportedly, prisoners in one US state get only two square meals a day three days a week. “This is inhumane,” a newspaper editorial said. Over here in India, the government says blandly: “A National Sample Survey Exercise points towards the fact that about 5 per cent of the total population in the country sleeps without two square meals a day”. That is 60 million people. The Antyodaya Anna Yojana aims to help the truly destitute by selling them up to 35 kg of foodgrains a month ^ rice at Rs 2 and wheat at Rs 3 a kg. As of April 2008, the government had identified 2,42,755 “poorest of the poor” families. The UPA government has taken power almost exactly midway through the 11th five-year Plan. Next Monday, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee might want to address some of the concerns spelled out in the Plan documents. “There are large errors of exclusion and inclusion and ghost cards are common,” the Planning Commission says, adding that “leakages” are common ^ higher than 75 per cent in Bihar and Punjab. During 2003-04, it estimates that eight million tonnes of foodgrains out of 14 million allotted to BPL families never reached them. “For every 1 kilogram that was delivered to the poor, Government of India had to issue 2.23 kilograms” of foodgrains. These figures have almost certainly worsened over the past year as the economy slowed down. And this is happening at a time when foodgrain prices have been rising steadily, despite misleading data that shows that India’s official measure of inflation, the wholesale price index (WPI), is now slightly negative. Although experts say the WPI is a more reliable, broader measure, the consumer price index, which takes in what the aam aadmi buys everyday, has put inflation at over 10 per cent in the 2008-09 fiscal year. Higher prices hit the poor hardest. Statistics show that in rural India, the poor spend close to half their incomes on food, and higher food prices are deepening malnutrition. Higher prices also mean changes in food habits. Cereal consumption has been falling steadily in rural India ^ from 15.3 kg per capita per month in 1972-73 to 13.4 kg in 1993-94 and 12.12 kg in 2004-05. This would not have been alarming if the poor were consuming more of other foods like milk, meat, vegetables and fruits. Over a 20-year period, the Planning Commission says, per capita consumption of calories and protein has steadily declined in India. The calorie norm for the rural poor was set at 2,400 calories a day, and rural India’s calorie consumption has dropped to 2,047 calories from 2,221. In urban India, cereal consumption has fallen less precipitously, from 11.3 kg in 1973-74 to 10.6 kg in 1993-94 and 9.94 kg in 2004-05. No wonder one-third of India’s adult population in 2005-06 had a body mass index below 18.5, the cut-off for malnutrition, or that India accounts for about half the developing world’s low-body-weight babies, and a very high rate of anaemia among women and girls. The new government has said it will push a Food Security Act. What those 60 million forever-hungry people need is nutritious food, and clean drinking water. Pawar and Mukherjee have their work cut out for them.

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