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India starving on a mountain of grains
India claims to be a food surplus nation, which is true. Yet we feature among the most hungry nations. Over 10 lakh tonnes of food grain was damaged in the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) during the last decade.

THE ECONOMISTS have predicted a growth rate of nine per cent for India in the coming years. It is heartening to see that we are making progress. But one thing I am not sure about is, what does this growth rate implies?

Statistics and numbers are like mini skirts, what they conceal is more vital than what they reveal. And the same is applicable to our growth story as well. There is no denying that in the last few years we have made good progress in few spheres but the development has mainly centred around urban areas and the beneficiaries are the people, who belong to the elite group.

Agriculture, which supports more than 65 per cent of the population, is growing at the dismal rate of three per cent. India ranks 94th in the global hunger index according to a report released by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). India’s score is 25.03, compared with 8.37 for China, which is 47th on the list. Libya tops the list with a score of 0.87. Between 1981 and 1992, Indian score fell from 41 to 32 and then to 25 by 1997. This means that India has stagnated and failed to feed its poor in the last decade or so.

India claims to be a food surplus nation, which is true. Yet we feature among the most hungry nations. The ’credit’ for this paradox goes to the change in the food policy of India in the early 1990s. At that time, the government of India decided to increase the price (or decrease the ’subsidy’) of grains and commodities in the public distribution system (PDS - the ‘ration shops’). It had two consequences--

  • It made food out of reach of the poor.
  • It made India a food surplus nation, since those, who require it badly can no longer afford it.

The government presents such a beautiful picture of the country that we are a developing economy, will overtake China in the next decade and become a superpower. No problems with that. But one should be true to one’s assessment.

With the inflation soaring at 11.5 per cent, the life of a poor man has become more miserable. The people in villages, barely few hundred kilometers from our financial capital, have not eaten vegetables for the last few months. The adults have literally given up eating at night. This is perhaps the story of every household, which depends on daily wages or meager monthly income.

India has also the distinction of being home to the largest number of malnourished children. Child malnutrition is a leading cause of child and adult morbidity, mortality, cognitive and motor development. It is estimated to play a role in about 50 per cent of all child deaths, and more than half of child deaths are caused by malaria (57 per cent), diarrhoea (61 per cent) and pneumonia (52 per cent). So we are failing to feed our children as well. So what does this growth rate means when the majority of the population of our country is unable to secure roti.

Recently, the reply to an RTI (Right to Information) appeal filed by Dev Ashish Bhattacharya says that over 10 lakh tonnes of food grain worth several hundred crores of rupees, which could have fed over one crore hungry people for a year, was damaged in the godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) during the last decade. The damages were suffered despite the FCI spending Rs242 crore to prevent loss of food grains during storage. Ironically another Rs2.59 crore was spent just to dispose off the rotten food grains. Isn’t this some thing very stupid where you waste your food grains, which could have supplied food for millions and on the other hand you cite the shortage of food and raise the price of grains 2-3 times in a span of few months.

I sometimes wonder what these policy makers do when they have failed to control inflation, food management, hunger, malnutrition. Their policies have just made the life of a poor more doleful. Yet they claim that we are growing at the rate of nine per cent!!

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