Decoding ‘Menace of Hunger’ in India: Global Hunger Index 2017 and Aadhaar related Deaths

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The problem of hunger is chronic in many parts of the world, especially in poor and underdeveloped countries of Africa and South Asia. It is a very serious menace and indeed an existential crisis for about one-fifth of the world’s population, which unfortunately receives scant attention at the global level. The ‘Global Hunger Index 2017’ (GHI 2017) has been released by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) which is committed to bringing out authentic and germane representation of the problem of hungry people around the globe. It was established in 1975 and is working with various international bodies and sovereign states to reduce malnutrition and hunger deaths on earth. It acts as a liaison agency to vouch for healthy food systems, improved trade practices and ensuring sustainable agricultural practices. The GHI 2017 is themed “The Inequalities of Hunger” and aptly brings out startling facts as regards the gravity of the menace of hunger which is unevenly grave in some of the nations. The 2017 report also shows that there is a direct relation between conflict zones and hunger menace as the prevalence of conflicts and forced migration leaves large portions of the population vulnerable to hunger. It also highlights the importance of nutritional and balanced diet in the first 1000 days of the child for the complete mental and cognitive development of the body. It inter alia showcases the role played by village level institutes for generating awareness about the necessity to provide the balanced diet and sustainable agricultural practices for the farmers.

India’s Performance in GHI 2017

The aspect of the Global Hunger Index 2017 (GHI 2017) that the present article is concerned with is the performance of India in the Index. In the GHI 2017, India has been ranked as an abysmal 100 out of the 119 countries which have been compared in the report. It is an ignoble statistic for a nation that vouches to be a superpower in the near future and is one of the biggest economies of the world. The report has divided the nations in five categories namely extremely alarming, alarming, serious, moderate and low. India with the score (Hunger Index) of 31.4 is behind Bangladesh, Nepal, and Iraq in tackling the problem of hunger. It is paradoxical that although India provides vital technological resources and training in Iraq and Bangladesh, she fares far poorly herself in fending against hunger. Even North Korea (97th Rank) which faces acute sanctions by the USA and other Western nations on imports of food is better placed than India. The report has righteously generated a lot of media attention, but sadly it is largely directed towards mudslinging by the leaders of different political parties and less concerned about the true problem. With the impending elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, the attention of both the political leadership as well as media had been shifted towards the power game and concerns of hungry and malnutrition Indians didn’t find many takers both in the ruling dispensation as well as amongst the opposition.

The problem of hunger in India has been a chronic one with the large sanction of the population permanently dependent upon government schemes for barely enough food to keep them alive, let alone ‘nutritious food’. Since the independence, there have been scores of programmes aimed at providing food to the poor section of the population. The programmes like Food for Work Programme, Anantodya Anna Yojana (AAY) and most important Mid-Day Meal Scheme under the Sarv Siksha Abhiyaan (SSA) has surely had an impact in reducing the magnitude of hunger, but have failed to reduce it truly. The pilferages of the government money, corruption and misplaced priorities of the successive governments have led to crores suffering from chronic hunger for many years.

Reasons for Poor Performance

India has dropped three places to 100th rank from 97th in the year 2016 in the Global Hunger Index with the categorization of ‘serious’ in the Index. Hunger is surely a grave concern in India has many Indians have been living with the chronic hunger for generations with no solution in sight in the near future. The success of the green revolution and other horticulture missions have only ensured that India is self-sufficient in food production and is not dependent on foreign aid anymore. But the gains of the self-sufficiency have not reduced the quantum of hunger and benefits have only been accrued to the marginal section of the society. The problem of hunger is invariably associated with poverty in India. According to the Census 2011, 21.9% of India’s population lives under the official poverty line. The official poverty line is also disputed to a large extent as according to the Rangarajan Committee Report of 2014 if the criteria are ₹ 47 and ₹ 32 per day in urban and rural areas respectively, about 29.5% of India is below the poverty line.

The distribution of the hunger in India is geographically skewed with around half of the hungry people residing in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. The failures of the governments both at the Union level as well as at the state level to ameliorate the problem is appalling. The problem of hunger is also situated with reduced growth of the children and the ‘phenomenon of wasting’ for the younger population. The poor in India are permanently dependent on rations given under the governmental schemes at highly subsidized rates for bare existence. It is indeed acrimonious to have large quantities of food grains wasted in the storage facilities of Food Corporation of India (FCI) and other procurement agencies under crores still dream of adequate food. Another reason for large-scale hunger in India has been the lack of effective mobilization of poor people to form a ‘political vote bank’. The Indian political scenario is dominated by vote bank politics with religious and caste mobilizations to influence governmental policies. But the ‘poor people’ who invariably constitute one of the largest vote banks are totally shunned in the political sphere due to poor political awareness of their rights and effective bargaining power. The ‘poor person’ in India is also a statistical figure to loot the government money in the name of schemes with no redressal to his problems at any forum. The hunger is also a manifestation of this impecunious segment of people which have remained largely marginalized in the fastest developing nation in the world.

Case of ‘Misplaced Priorities’

The GHI 2017 reveals the pathetic situation of the hunger in India with the nation placed poorly in the world. India has been faring poorly at global levels and has dropped to 100th rank in the list of 119 nations. It is surely a shameful figure for all Indians who are proud of the nation’s technological prowess and robust economy. It also showcases the irony that on one hand, we have Bullet Train and world-class RORO Ferry service being sanctioned, while on the other hand cores still languish in abjure penury and chronic hunger. The defective ‘idea of development’ adopted by the political leadership and state machinery highlights extreme neglect of the ground situation. While India sends the food aid consignment to Iraq via Gwadar Port in Iran, thousands die of hunger in India every day. This notion of development based on ‘Figure Politics and Chest Thumping’ has no place for the poor in India. The focus is only laid on sanctioning schemes worth crores of rupees, but implementation and monitoring escape much scrutiny. The same apathy to the ground reality is visible in the case of railways where hundreds die annually on road accidents in spite of ‘Zero Tolerance’ of the government, but the government is more focussed on bullet train as the elite would be placated by such act. The need is to include various stakeholders starting at the grass root level, to fight this menace on a mission mode.

Hunger Deaths- Insistence On Adhaar Card

While the Global Hunger Index 2017 (GHI 2017) underscores the extreme problem of hunger in India, another development has hit headlines in the recent times. It has been the score of ‘Hunger deaths’ due to non-linkages with the Adhaar card. The Adhaar card scheme is surely a panacea to drastically reduce pilferages in public distribution system and has led to saving of about ₹ 38,000 crores of the state exchequer, but its draconic insistence has been associated with hunger deaths among the poor. The heart-wrenching story of 11-year-old girl who died of starvation due to denial of food grains for non-linkage with Adhaar Card exacerbated by the Durga Pooja holidays in school. The poor girl couldn’t get food for days and died to beg for food in extreme poverty. There have also been instances of hunger deaths among older people who have in the recent months perished due to extreme weakness and hunger. What is even more pathetic is the denial by the various state government and high headedness of the officials to even blame the victims themselves for the tragic incidents. The government has been extremely rigid upon linking of the Adhaar cards to get rations, but it is appalling to deny someone ration to the extent of death for not abiding by the governmental directions. The governments both at Union and State level must accept this lacuna in the Adhaar schemes and must ensure that lack of biometric identification don’t become the reason for somebody’s death. It is indeed revolting to imagine such an incident happen in India which boasts of Mangalyaan, Information-Technology revolution, and food adequacy.

Remedial Measures

The problem of hunger in India is very serious and needs brainstorming for its redressal. The government must pay adequate attention to the menace and commission a study group for recommendations to ameliorate it. The government must also keep in mind the ground realities and frame realistic schemes for the people. The focus should be on implementation and checking pilferages in the present system. The stubborn insistence upon the linking of the Adhaar for availing the food grains should be given up and adequate time be provided to the beneficiaries to comply this the directives of the government. The life of every Indian is precious and this is a disgrace to the entire nation to witness hunger deaths in this emerging superpower. A cue could also be taken from the example of Nepal. Nepal which had very high GHI rates in the early 2000s has done exceptionally well to record the rank of 72 in the 2017 report. The phenomenal success of Nepal is being attributed to increased maternal education, better sanitary conditions, and efficient nutrition programme. India must also address the problem of ‘wasting’ that is less weight in comparison to height and adversely affects mental development in the early years of life. The high wasting rate is largely due to the absence of nutritional diet in the first three years of the life devoid of essential proteins, minerals, and vitamins. The GHI 2017 could act as an eye-opener for the government to re-strategize its efforts with the beneficiaries be consulted in the process. The universal coverage schemes increased awareness at village level and robust commitment to the cause is needed to improve the grave situation. The role of social organizations and civil society in highlighting the needs of the marginalized section is vital. The political parties, leaders, and officials must rise above their ego and serve the people of the nation wholeheartedly. If the unflinching determination by the government is ably supported by positive role of the other stakeholders then India can eradicate the problem of hunger and improve her global standings greatly.

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