MORE BILLIONAIRES, MORE HUNGER

about 1 month ago
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Are we a democracy or a capitalist nation?

That’s the thought which comes to mind every time we dig out news on India’s rising poverty rate and growing hunger index. We use the word, “dig.” This news is never really flashed all across like the way the Ease of Doing Business index is. So govt continues to concentrate on making the environment right for the businessmen but gives two hoots for those living in the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Amidst all this Diwali celebrations and din created by the probable tax cuts for markets, one news came and went quietly – India’s ranking on the Global Hunger Index (GHI).

GHI s a tool that measures and tracks hunger globally, by region, and by country. The GHI is calculated annually, and its results appear in a report issued in October each year. This year, India’s ranking fell further to 102 out of 117 countries covered; we are just 15 notches above the poorest and most hungry country in the world, while till some time ago, we tom-tommed ourselves to be the fastest growing economy in the world. There is such a huge mismatch – on one end of the spectrum, we have some of the richest people on earth living in India, getting richer by the day, while on the other end of the pole, we have hunger issues which are today worse than even Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

A debate is raging now, as expected, questioning the very veracity of this data, whether this data is comparable YoY at all.  India’s ranking in 2014 was at 55 and today it stands at 102.  Maybe the data is not comparable YoY as the GHI takes into account even countries with scores of less than 5 within the list and has in some years, shown these less than 5 under a separate list. Thus one would be right in saying that no conclusions can be drawn in terms of slippages in India’s ranking. In fact the GHI reports themselves say that Rankings and index scores from this table cannot be accurately compared to rankings and index scores from previous reports.”

But there is way around the second question - whether the direction of change in India with regard to the components that go into the GHI have been right? NITI Aayog has been very vociferous in saying that irrespective of the ranking, there has been a consistent improvement in the individual components. NITI Aayog makes this statement on the basis of comparing results of one survey done by Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) with another survey done by another organization. These findings were all about surveys done at one point of time; GHI is consistently doing the surveys, year after year. More importantly, CNNS survey does not even consider the first component of GHI - calorie intake for the population. Thus when questions of these surveys are different, how can NITI Aayog even say that GHI survey is not right? The National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) used to do a very detailed survey but its last survey results are of 2011-12; after that there is no news. Wonder what has happened to NSS?

What is irrefutable, irrespective of what anyone says is that among SE countries, India ranks lowest in the GHI and more worrisome – between 2010 and 2019, the rise in proportion of children under 5 who are underweight relative to their height, reflecting acute under-nutrition has gone up at an alarming rate.

Thus while children in India go hungry, it pains one to see food rotting in the godowns or being exported. Aren’t we missing the point somewhere? Children are the future and if the future grows up poor and hunger, what kind of a future are we really building? Just paper tigers?

There is no official data on poverty numbers for the last 8 years. Year after year, we have record grain production, yet so many children under age of 5 go hungry most days? One can refute the GHI but can one refute the lack of data on poverty? Growth slowdown is just one aspect of the economy; what about real people and their lives? NSSO was scheduled to release data in June but till date remains buried; why, because it has ‘unpleasant’ findings which go against the election drive?

Let’s ‘Make India’ first and then talk big about ‘Make in India.’

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