Recent news that some of the states in India are worse than many poor African countries in terms of providing adequate food and nutrition to the child population must be galling to patriotic Indians who want to take pride in the strides made by the country in many fields of economic activities. It looks as if the race to reach the milestone of an economic super power is obscuring the agenda for social upliftment with poverty still remaining number one problem of the country. Here is a sorry indictment of the present situation which if continued can spell disaster of a magnitude the country can ill afford.
India's ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys. India vanquished food shortages during the 1960s with the Green Revolution, which introduced high-yield grains and fertilizers and expanded irrigation, and the country has had one of the world's fastest-growing economies during the past decade. But its poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with roughly 42 percent of all Indian children under the age of 5 being underweight. The food system has existed for more than half a century and has become riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs. Ms. Gandhi's proposal, still far from becoming law, has been scaled back, for now, so that universal eligibility would initially be introduced only in the country's 200 poorest districts, including here in Jhabua, at the western edge of the state of Madhya Pradesh. With some of the highest levels of poverty and child malnutrition in the world, Madhya Pradesh underscores the need for change in the food system. Earlier this year, the official overseeing the state's child development programs was arrested on charges of stealing money. In Jhabua, local news media recently reported a spate of child deaths linked to malnutrition in several villages. Investigators later discovered 3,500 fake food ration booklets in the district, believed to have been issued by low-level officials for themselves and their friends. Inside the district hospital, Mr. Bhuria said he had applied three times for a food ration card, but the clerk had failed to produce one.