India may or may not be on the road to the $ 5-trillion club. But it is in the club of countries ranked at the bottom end of Global Hunger Index. In a dismal performance, over the last four years, the country has slipped nine ranks in the index – 102 out of 117 nations. It has been earmarked in the group of 47 countries which have ‘serious levels’ of hunger. What is worse, the country’s ranking is eight spots below Pakistan and 14 below Bangladesh. It is not merely a question of deprivation of food though its inadequacy is one of the four criteria. The other three are equally grave issues: High percentage of ‘wasted children’ who have low weight for their height; ‘stunted children’ who have low height for their age; and mortality of children under the age of five.
A government that came to power on the slogan of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas has gone off the track on the way. The poor ranking in hunger index is a clear case of vikas not reaching the poor. The tall claims of government schemes working wonders are falling flat on the ground. One of the main causes for hunger is lack of purchasing power in the hands of the poor. Many renowned economists, including the latest Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, have suggested Universal Basic Income to tackle this critical issue. Money should reach people to sustain demand in the market. Lack of purchasing power leads to a vicious circle starting with insufficient demand; this leads to unsold goods and huge inventory for industries; it will be followed by cut down on production, causing huge loss of jobs; when people are left jobless, they will have less purchasing power, creating low demand. And the vicious circle continues. However, the government in its latest move preferred to cut corporate tax, giving more money in the hands of industrialists. Many economists point out that there is no guarantee that industrialists will invest this extra money as they are unsure of a revival in the market.
Those who ridicule the old Congress slogan of ‘garibi hatao’ are indeed making fun of the poor by changing the narrative to India-Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim issues. The Congress slogan may not have worked the way it should have. But it has helped to pull millions out of poverty in the last few decades. By denigrating those efforts to show the grand old party in poor light, the ruling dispensation is not doing any good to the poor. What is worse is the government’s unwillingness to accept the crisis in nutrition. The allocation for children in this year’s budget has shown only a marginal increase of .05 per cent, with a grant of Rs. 91,644 crore. A country working on a Rs 1 lakh crore bullet train project does not seem to be enthusiastic on a critical issue affecting millions of children. The weakest link in India’s demography – the poor -- should not be left alone to tackle one of the basic needs of life: food. The faded and jaded victory of the ruling party in the recent State elections and by-elections should ring bells for Modi regime.(Published on 28th October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 44)