Alarming Hunger Situation

Govt unconcerned about poor

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Eleven year old Santoshi died of starvation because there was no foodgrain in her house for six weeks in a Jharkhand village on 28 September. Predictably, all hell broke loose with the State Government trying to hide behind lame excuses. Alas, to no avail as on its heels came the Global Hunger Index wherein distressingly, India is ranked 100 among 119 countries over the last three years. Worse, it has fallen from 55 among 76 countries in 2015 and 97 among 118 countries last year.
Importantly, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) which prepared the Index underscored India’s hunger label ‘serious’ which speaks very poorly about the country’s performance. More, it rightly observed that economic growth does not automatically guarantee food security.
Clearly, this report could not have come at a more importunate time for the NDA Government as its economic panel report had zeroed on ten areas to spur growth. Whereby, boosting growth is the Modi Sarkar’s prime concern and not eradication of poverty and hunger.
Undeniably, politicians and planners have little idea about the ground reality of hapless millions who struggle for a bare existence. Despite a so-called nation-wide nutrition focused programme drought and structural deficiencies have left large numbers of poor at risk of malnourishment. Add to this is the lack of neglect of rural areas and very poor governance in execution of schemes.
The IFPRI pointed out that just 9.6 per cent of children between six and 23 months had adequate diet which should put the country to shame. Concluding that India’s score is at the “high end of the serious category”, pushing South Asia into the worst performing regions category on the Index.
Indeed, it is difficult to stomach that India has Asia’s third worst hunger score with only Afghanistan and Pakistan ranked worse. China which is way ahead in all spheres is ranked at 20 and even small neighbours Nepal and Bangladesh slotted at 72 and 88 respectively have demonstrated that their governance and concern for the rural populace are much better.
Notably, the report puts our politicians tall talks to shame. Sadly, all big plans and programmes launched by successive Governments have been totally unsuccessful if the Index is analyzed in the context of the existing situation prevailing in the rural areas. Be it under-nourishment, child mortality, child wasting and child stunting.
Certainly, the over emphasis on growth makes no sense as it has virtually no bearing on the lives of the poor and the impoverished sections of society. A harsh fact reiterated over the years by left wing economists. Recently, a German humanitarian agency Welte-hungerhilfe stated: It is obvious that a high GDP growth rate alone is no guarantee of food and nutrition security for India’s vast majority”.
If this is accepted, the whole policy focus has to change. However, urban economists and planners on the Government’s advisory bodies are unwilling to agree to a change of policy orientation which would concentrate on masses living in poverty and squalor, primarily in the rural areas.
Questionably, how many backward districts in the country have changed in the last 3 to 5 years? Shockingly, there has been scattered focus on rural areas and implementation of schemes has been poor due to lack of monitoring and rampant corruption. Also, officials posted in these areas have no concern for the poor who reside there. Unless there is attitudinal change of real concern for the people lack of interest in welfare schemes will continue.
Besides, all talk of sustainable development remain on paper and subjects of discussion and debate at seminars and conferences. Even as senior officials from all walks of life, including Government and private sector, urge the need for a strategy for development. Are all these just a farce and a show of development?
Notably, it is time that the Government is serious about the issue of hunger and takes steps to prepare an action plan of yearly target for all States. While more resources need to be allocated these have to be strictly monitored by Central and State authorities.
Pertinently, even as the Government has made ‘Social Audit’ mandatory for organizations which have a public interface, they need to evaluate performance and find whether stakeholders are getting benefits of various welfare schemes. This is not being adhered to by most organizations.
Is it because corruption and misgovernance would be revealed? Why don’t Panchayats make such audit mandatory with immediate effect to ensure that welfare reaches the beneficiaries at all levels?
Think. While schemes are galore and the performance is reflected in the Index, the Government has drafted an ambitious Rs 1.2 lakh crores plan to provide universal social security coverage for the poorest fifth of the country, as part of a broader programme which envisages three categories —— poorest 20 per cent who will get a Government payout, those who subscribe on their own and formal sector workers who need to set aside a fixed proportion of income towards this scheme.
No doubt this huge amount will be a challenge for the Government as it goes about correctly identifying the beneficiaries who get their due. In spite of efforts by successive Governments, corruption seeps in. Will the Government be able to resist this?
Bluntly, the way democracy is practiced, the country has not adhered on the sustainable development path. Nor have we developed a theory of democracy for a multi-cultural society riddled with the problems of multiple polarizations. The need for authoritarian system of administration results in “a veiled dictatorial form of Government — a syndicated form of pseudo-democratic governance” that has little concern for the masses.
In sum, if true development had taken place with sincerity and dedication of Government officials and politicians, the conditions of our poor sections would not have been so alarming. Thus, it is time that big plans and promises should be supported by effective action at the grass-root levels so that the suffering millions are assured of the basic necessities of life.
Our high profile economists and planners, who are nothing but snobbish intellectuals, should be held responsible when they speak against the Government’s welfare initiatives. The Government should not take this as ‘pessimism’ but a reality. —— INFA