Editorial

Hungry India….

India ranked 94 among 107 nations in the Global Hunger Index 2020 and is in the ‘serious’ hunger category with experts blaming poor implementation processes, lack of effective monitoring, siloed approach in tackling malnutrition and poor performance by large states behind the low ranking. The neighbouring Bangladesh, Myanmar and Pakistan too are in the ‘serious’ category but ranked higher than India in this year’s hunger index. While Bangladesh ranked 75, Myanmar and Pakistan are in the 78th and 88th position. Nepal in 73rd and Sri Lanka in 64th position are in ‘moderate’ hunger category, the report showed. Hunger is the failure to access the calories that are necessary to sustain an active and healthy life. It results in intense human suffering and indignity, as parents are forced to helplessly watch their children ache as they sleep hungry, as their brains and bodies are unable to grow to full potential, and, as they fall ill too often and are snatched away too early. This is a colossal national dishonour for two reasons. One, this suffering is entirely preventable. Given appropriate public policies — sensitively designed, adequately resourced and effectively implemented — the country has both the wealth and the food stocks many times over to end hunger entirely. The relative success of our neighbours in combating hunger — Nepal emerging from 15 years of civil war and Pakistan still torn by internal conflict — is a sobering reminder of what India has not accomplished. Two, this failure does not spur public outrage and the introspection that it should. The report is instructive as it explains why Bangladesh and Nepal have surged ahead of a much wealthier India. The Bangladesh success story is attributed to pro-poor economic growth raising household incomes as well as significant improvements in “nutrition-sensitive” sectors like education, sanitation and health. Nepal, likewise, shows increased household wealth, maternal education, sanitation, health and nutrition programmes. The cruel irony of the largest population of food-insecure people being food producers — farm workers, tenants, marginal and small farmers, fish workers and forest gatherers. To end hunger, food producers must be supported to receive adequate remuneration. We recommend sound measures to protect farmer incomes, including income transfers to farmers, minimum support-price guarantees and crop insurance, and a massive expansion of farm credit. For farm workers, a refocus on land reforms is called for, and, a greatly expanded and effectively managed rural employment guarantee programme with attention to land and watershed development, small irrigation and afforestation. There must also be an urgent and comprehensive shift to sustainable agricultural technologies less dependent on irrigation, chemical fertilisers and pesticides, to reverse our agri-ecological crisis. The other large food-vulnerable population comprises informal workers. Hunger can’t be combated without addressing the burgeoning job crisis. It also entails labour reforms which protect job security, fair work conditions and social security of all workers. We also argue that the time has come for an urban employment guarantee programme, to help build basic public services and infrastructure for the urban poor — especially slum and pavement residents, and the homeless. This should also include employment in the care economy, with services for child-care, children and adults with disability and older persons. The Public Distribution System must be universalised (excluding income tax payees), and should distribute not just cereals but also pulses and edible oils. Further, we need to reimagine it as a decentralised system where a variety of crops are procured and distributed locally. Both pre-school feeding and school meals need adequate budgets, and the meals should be supplemented with nutrient-rich foods such as dairy products, eggs and fruits. Social protection also entails universal pension for persons not covered by formal schemes, universal maternity entitlements to enable all women in informal work to rest and breast-feed their children, a vastly expanded creche scheme, and residential schools for homeless children and child workers. All of this is not unknown. Yet, India continues to fail children born in impoverished households, to homeless people and single mothers, and to oppressed castes and social groups. Our economic policy continues to be trapped in an elite capture, dominated by measures that support big businesses to the exclusion of farmers and workers. Social rights are broken and betrayed. As its core, the reason for India’s continuing failures to end hunger and malnutrition of its millions is the indifference of people who have never known the agony of involuntary hunger.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

To Top