Thursday, June 21, 2012


In spite of dire predictions about the fate of the country, in the face of crushing burden of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, India seems to be plodding on without any catastrophe as being talked about for a long time. But if the statical figures coming out of this country with a massive population of almost 2 billion are taken seriously, billions of rupees invested by successive governments in the name of poverty alleviation and welfare of the so called "aam aadmi" or the "common man",  do not seem to have made any lasting impression at the ground level. Poor people continue to be poor and hungry ones reconcile to their fate! More shockingly some of the parameters used to measure human development progress reveal a distressing trend with no ready answer for this pitiable state or ready solution to lick the problem. GDP figures or per capita income growth does not tell the true story because here is a country which has made rich people richer and poor ones poorer and average figures do not reflect the agony and anguish most people are going through! Every Indian has to hang his head in shame when confronted by global reports about the tragedy  of Indian children under a democratic dispensation! Is this the cost of development which appears to be not inclusive, benefitiing only a few people in the country?. Is there no hope or salvation to millions of impoverished people in the country who dream of just a simple life with adequate food, security and self respect? Some how the government of the day is imagining that distributing food grains at subsidized cost or badly implemented welfare schemes which never reaches the beneficiaries, will mislead the world. Reports about muti billion rupees scams in the telecom sector or coal sector or in the real estate sector, even if not proven conclusively and the alleged black money hoardings in foreign countries, do not inspire confidence that there can be a turn around in the fortunes of the poor in the forseable future. Here is an incisive analysis about the situation that is unfolding in India.

"While nutritionists and economists debate the importance of targets defined solely in calories, other data shows gains in nourishment also stalled. In the 2005 National Family Health Survey, when India last weighed, measured and counted its children for signs of hunger, it found 46 percent -- 31 million -- weighed too little for their ages, almost an entire Canada of malnourished under-three-year-olds. In 1999, that number was 47 percent. Some indicators worsened: 79 percent of children had anemia, against 74 percent in 1999; 19 percent were wasted -- weighed too little for their height -- up from 16 percent. Anemia prevents the absorption of nutrients; as do the diarrhea and other diseases caused by poor hygiene and sanitation. In sheer numbers, 4 out of 10 malnourished children in the world are Indian, more than in all of Africa. War-torn Sudan and famine-struck Eritrea had smaller percentages of malnourished children, at about 32 percent, according to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. India's hungry children are likely to have lower cognitive skills, grow up to be weakened workers, suffer from chronic illnesses and die prematurely, according to the United Nations Children's Fund. Hunger stalks them into adulthood too: 21 percent of all Indians are undernourished, according to Ifpri, up from 20 percent a decade ago. All of which costs the country about $68 billion a year, or almost 4 percent of GDP, according to Veena S. Rao, who heads nutrition initiatives for the government of Karnataka, the Indian state that encompasses the city of Bangalore. "The problem of malnutrition is a national shame," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in January, in one of about 50 public speeches where he has mentioned the subject. "Despite impressive growth in our gross domestic product, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high." India has collected reliable and consistent national data on nutrition since 1972, soon after setting minimum daily intakes of about 2,100 calories a day for city residents, who are assumed to be less physically active. The level for rural- dwellers was pegged at 2,400 calories on the basis that tilling fields, harvesting crops and drawing water require greater exertion".

To add insult to injury, the head of the government proclaims from the roof top that nutrition problem is a national shame without giving any clue as to what he was doing during the last 7 years he has been in power or what plans he has, different from the past, to tackle the problem! His minister for environment seems to be obsessed with programs for building toilets in rural areas where open defecation is commonly accepted practice though one cannot find fault with his focused efforts. If people do not have sufficient food to eat what difference it makes where they defecate. The realization does not seem to be dawning on the rulers that poverty and unhygienic situation go hand in hand and unless an integrated approach is thought about no amount of money invested will show any result at the ground level. It was not long ago that administrators of toilet building program in Karnataka realized, how, within a matter of a few months , most toilets were converted into additional rooms for day to day use including for pooja purpose! The present proposal to increase the toilet grant from Rs 3500 to Rs 10000 is unlikely to improve the situation dramatically unless the hunger in the belly is doused. For this to happen, government will have to ensure that corruption in welfare programs so rampant in the country is eradicated ruthlessly so that beneficiaries get fully what is due to them. Unless and until this happens, the wheel of poverty and hunger will roll on and on with no let up!


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