Hunger taunts Bharat: Tragedy of poverty

  1. Q) How much does it cost a poor man to satiate his hunger and keep body and soul together per day?
  2. A) “One can get a meal for Rs 20 in Mumbai, in Delhi the cost is only Rs 15,nonsense, one can fill one stomach on Rs 1 in Tamil Nadu. Really? Are you joking?

Ok, let lose the expletives, curse all you want of how rotten the State of Denmark is. But this sums up the tragic reality of our heartless, callous desi Marie Antoinettes who have made poverty and hunger into a farce. Remember the French Queen’s infamous remark, “If the people have no bread let them have cake!”

Do our leaders know the reality of Asli Bharat? Do they care a damn? More so, after it has been classified with ‘serious’ hunger levels, ranked 102 of 117 countries in 2019’s Global Hunger Index. That too, when poverty has decreased globally. Adding insult neighbours Bangladesh and Nepal fare better with only African countries poorer off .

Worse, India fails on all four indicators: Undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality. It tops in child wasting worldwide 20.8%, under-5 mortality 4.8% and child stunting (height-weight ratio) 37.9%. Only three countries are below it.

Shockingly, 34 out of 1,000 children die in the mother’s womb. Nine lakh children below 5 years before they can read the word hunger and 3,000 children die of malnutrition every day while 19 crores people are compelled to sleep on empty stomachs.

Recently, three girls died in Madhya Pradesh. The post-mortem revealed that their stomachs didn’t have any trace of food as they hadn’t eaten for days and their fat levels crashed to zero! Another died in Jharkhand because her destitute family hadn’t received their quota of subsidised foodgrains for six months. A boy died in Maharashtra begging for a bowl of rice. Heart wrenching tales which crisscross the country

Why are we so bad in feeding our children? True, the Government has implemented the Integrated Child Development Services and the National Health Mission but these have yet to “achieve adequate coverage”, says the report. In fact, according to the Union Health Ministry more than 93 lakh children (21%) are suffering from severe malnutrition.

This is not to detract from the success of the Jan Dhan Yojna, Jan Mudhra Scheme, Ujwala Yojna, Kisan Pension Yojana, Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana, Jal Shakti Abhiyan etc. Yet, as India spends crores of rupees on schemes to fight poverty, it would be nice if the poor were to get even half the money that is spent in studying the impoverished, what they are eating and whether or not they are receiving State help.

Think. Over 300 million poor are unable to adequately feed themselves and families in rural areas. They are getting 500 fewer calories, 13 grams of less protein, five milligrams of iron, 250 milligrams of calcium and 500 milligrams less vitamin A as compared to 1975-79. Alongside, lack of food and poor access to sanitation, notwithstanding Governmental impetus on Swatchh Bharat translates into children growing up malnourished.

Alas, hunger stalks every State and with rising food prices naturally, more are pushed to poverty. Besides, despite it being mandatory for the Government to provide five kilos of subsidised foodgrains to 75% rural population under the National Food Security Act, the identification of beneficiaries under the law has been imperfect with many poor people not making it to revised PDS lists and Aadhar. And even those listed as beneficiaries are denied rations. Mera Bharat Mahan!

Arguably, expanding poverty seems to raise more questions than answers. According to a Oxford University study, 75.6% of India’s population or 828 million people live below the poverty line. The UN World Food Program reports that nearly 350 million people, roughly 35% is food insecure.

Questionably, is this the reality of the world’s sixth biggest economy? A country where surplus grain is eaten by rats? Should India be spending billions on a mission to the Moon, when poverty stares it in the face? Where 40% of children are malnourished? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on feeding the hungry? Reducing poverty? Fixing female infanticide, manual scavenging, health etc?

When will the Central and State Governments stop their tu-tu-mein-mein and tackle hunger? Why don’t our lawmakers display unity on poignant issues? Which politician will take the lead to ensure that nobody dies of hunger?

Undeniably, our rulers are playing a game of see-saw with the country’s poor to unrealistically harp on Brand India instead of Asli Bharat. Bluntly, the deprived with famished bellies and tattered clothes aam aadmi who wait for hours for their mai-baaps translate into just sterile statistics to keep the vote-bank tillers ringing.

Noting that his Government has been concerned over high food prices, Prime Minister Modi and Finance Minister Sitharaman cooed, don’t worry and lose sleep, we too are equally concerned over the “behaviour of food prices. All practical measures” are being taken to provide relief. Sic.

Really, how? Will ending the financial year with a slipping GDP growth of 6.1% alleviate the misery of the poor crippled by rising prices? Will it end the miseries of 828 million people earning less than Rs 20 a day who satiate their starving bellies by longing looking at neon signs of sumptuous pizzas and burgers? Or for that matter, the 74 million ‘Nowhere Children” who are neither enrolled in schools nor accounted in the labour force or the 44 million children between 5-14 years engaged in economic activities and domestic non-remunerative work?

Sadly, the reality of modern India, is that on paper welfare and food security programmes for the poor are in place, yet people die of hunger as our system of distributing food to them are flawed, inefficient planning leaves most of the grains rotting in Government warehouses rather than reaching the needy and botched Government surveys leave the poor without ration cards.

Clearly, the Government’s economic policies far from addressing the central problems of poverty, hunger, agrarian crisis and rising unemployment are adding new ones for the economy. Disillusionment and discontent among the janata is spiraling. Borne out by rising farmers suicides, despite Government doles, crime and violence.

Truthfully, sound economics adds up to bad politics and deficit populism. Over the years, our netagan have turned this dictum on its head and converted populist politics into economic nonsense. Modi is no different from that of its predecessors.

Our netagan need to concentrate on the big picture. Wherein, their energies are channelized to address poverty on an emergency scale through faster, broad-based growth, supported by well-functioning delivery mechanisms. The effort must be to reduce the number of people in need of handouts. Between giving a man a fish a day and teaching him to fish, there is no disputing which makes more sense — and is more sustainable long-term. Teach him.

So where does the buck stop? At the neta’s doorstep. The time has come for the Government to stop making a mickey of the people. It is imperative that it works on a war-footing to arrest poverty and draws a lakshman rekha on populist measures.

The writing is on the wall. In the ultimate, if India cannot provide its citizen with adequate resources to meet his basic needs, it will cripple his full participation in the country’s progress. Our leaders must grasp that there is no substitute for poverty alleviation. Else Bharat will continue in the vicious tentacles of poverty!



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