‘The country’s economy is in good shape. The economic fundamentals are strong,’ stated Arun Jaitley, the Union Finance Minister, at a recent press conference. Juxtapose this with the depressing fact put out by International Food Policy Research Institute, a reputed global agency: India ranks 100 among 119 countries in ‘hunger index’. The rank deteriorated in the last few years hitting a century now.
Read the Finance Minister’s highly optimistic statement together with the news of hunger deaths coming from various corners of the country. The worst incident happened two weeks ago in BJP-ruled Jharkhand where a girl died because the ration shop owner refused to give foodgrains to the family as their ration card was not linked to Aadhaar. In the last few days, such bizarre reports have come from the tribal state. Starvation deaths are horrible news; it is appalling because it happens even as the number of billionaires in the country is on the rise; it is atrocious because it takes place even when the Finance Minister paints a rosy picture; it is awful because it occurs in a country where granaries are overflowing with foodgrains and spilling over to tents put up under open skies to be eaten by rodents.
There is an irony when we compare India with other countries. Reports suggest that the world is less hungry than it was in 2000: hunger has decreased by 27% since then. But the situation in India is deteriorating according to the global index. The country is last among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of emerging nations. In fact, India’s neighbours in South Asia -- Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh -- are doing better than it.
The hunger index is based on four key parameters: undernourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting. All these factors have a common determinant: food. If it is made available and accessible at affordable rate, people will not go hungry. People, fed better, will take the country several notches up in the hunger index. The paradox is that India produces food more than sufficient for everyone. Still millions of people go hungry.
The UPA government had enacted a comprehensive law in this regard – the Food Security Act 2013. It has several far-reaching provisions which make subsidized foodgrains available up to 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the urban population. If these provisions, along with free mid-day meal to children between six and 14 years, are implemented, there is no reason for people to go hungry.
Unfortunately, the priorities of the government have gone haywire. The government is more interested in snooping on people to watch their eating habits; it is more eager to put up the ‘tallest’ statues across the country; it is more enthusiastic about bullet trains to make travel of some people more comfortable; it is more concerned about linking personal data for no rhyme or reason. The real issues of hunger, joblessness, farmers’ loan, price rise, etc. have been put on the backburner. The result is that India’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index has worsened in 3 years down from 55 to 100.(Published on 30th October 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 44)