Why perhaps, marginal has to suffer?

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By Nikita Gandotra

“If investments in banks fall, it is a tragedy, and people say, ‘what are we going to do?’ But if people die of hunger, have nothing to eat or suffer from poor health, that’s nothing.”~ Pope Francis.

Many of us might be well aware of the recent headlines in news that says about the shocking starvation deaths of three minor girls in the national capital. After reading this article, a few more would become aware of it and simply bow their head in shame or stay silent for a few minutes or either make it a topic of discussion for the day. That’s it! The government would show a keen attitude towards it in the initial days and then again get engaged in their particular political agendas. Now, the question is that who is to work for these sufferers?

India produces more than 250 million tonnes of food and this is more than enough to feed every single person in the country. However, inspite of this more than 200 million people in the country sleep hungry. Every third child in India is malnourished which makes them disjunctured. These children are ten times more vulnerable to infection and diseases. Because of all this, they often die as early as the age of five.

Position of India in current hunger index

As per the release of 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), shows a long term progress in terms of reducing hunger. Shockingly, India fares worse than Iraq (78th), Bangladesh (88th), and North Korea (93rd). Half of the 119 countries have “extremely alarming”; “alarming” and “serious” hunger state. India was placed in a high end ‘serious’ category with a worse score of 31.4. Pertaining to hunger, the Global Hunger Index ranks India on a low pedestal of 100 of the 119 countries. India’s performance was better than the only two countries in Asia, that is, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The major causes of hunger in India

Hunger is not caused by too many people or too little food but because of shamelessly powerful and economical regimens in our country. People cannot eat not because there is not much food but because they cannot afford to buy it.

Ironically, in terms of numbers and infrastructure India ranks ahead and is called a developing country. The alarming part is that the government officials bluntly deny that hunger is a problem. Also, the people who can comfortably afford to buy food are indifferent to this reality.

The poverty trap in India- The primary and most obvious cause of hunger is poverty. While enough food exists to feed the world, a significant portion of the population still lives in such abject poverty that they cannot afford even the most basic food items. The global poor can’t feed themselves or their families, so they become weak and malnourished which makes them unable to work.

Politics of distribution- As Olivier de Schutter, UN special rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008 to 2014, writes in the 2015 Global Nutrition Report, “Food systems are defined by political decisions and differential power of actors to influence those decisions.” The debates around the National Food Security Bill reveal the lack of political intent to use food stocks to remove malnutrition and address inequity. While talking of food security, policymakers are reluctant to grant universal entitlements of even food grains to eradicate hunger.

Food wastage in our country- Food wastage can also be considered as a major cause of hunger in our country. Food wastage cripples a country’s economy to an extent that most of us are unaware. If food is wasted, there is so much waste of water used in agriculture, manpower and electricity lost in food processing industries and even contributes to deforestation. Taking it all into consideration, the actual worth of money per year in India from food wastage is estimated at a whopping of Rs 58,000 crore.

Poor infrastructure- Poor infrastructure causes hunger by making it difficult-sometimes impossible-to transport food to areas of a country where there are shortages. People have died of hunger in one region while there was a plenty of food in another region. The roads were so poor that it was not possible to reach all those who needed food for their survival. Crops need water to grow but irrigational infrastructures are unaffordable to most farmers in India.

Job instability- Including all other reasons, job instability also becomes a major cause in India contributing to hunger. Hunger rates tend to rise when national or local economy is in a slump. According to a report published in 2016, around 31 million people in India are unemployed & with time things are just worsening.
What is being done in India with respect to hunger?

In 2001, some activists filed a case in the Supreme Court for the ‘Right to Food’ to become a legal right in India, claiming that the government fails to prevent hunger inspite of having all the means to do so. Convinced by the argument Court passed the order that ‘No state can reduce the number of food related schemes or their coverage; they can only enhance them.’ Court also set in some monitoring mechanisms to see that these schemes are working appropriately.

The National Food Security Bill, 2013 (also Right to Food Act) is an Act of the Parliament of India which aims to provide subsidised food grains to approximately two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people. It includes Midday Meal Scheme, Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and Public Distribution System. Further, the NFSA 2013 recognises maternity entitlements. The Midday Meal Scheme and Integrated Child Development Services Scheme are universal in nature.

Under the provisions of the bill, beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System are entitled to 5 kilograms per person per month of cereals at the following prices-
Rice at Rs 3 per kg,
Wheat at Rs 2 per kg,
Coarse grains at Rs 1 per kg.

Pregnant women, lactating mothers and certain categories of children are eligible for daily free cereals.
However, the fact remains that the state authorities cannot be held legally responsible when a person looses his or her life because of lack of access to food. Corruption is found in the Public Distribution System. 51 per cent of government’s food stock is lost due to leakage and is sold at huge prices in the market, when it is meant to be subsidised.

Remedial measures-Being nourished properly should be a legal right of each and every citizen in India. This would work better if the right is universally applied instead of targeting a certain section of the population. Also, currently the shortlisted people are entitled to cereals only. Fats like edible oil and proteins like Dal are required to make it a fairly balanced diet. Thus, the government should put in the desired efforts and work upon making India healthier and better.

Source: State Times

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