Economic Challenger - - CONTENTS - − Mith­lesh Ku­mar Sinha

In­dia’s eco­nomic boom is on, so­cial sec­tor spend­ing is on, re­lent­less bat­tle against poverty and hunger is on but hunger af­flict­ing mil­lions is also go­ing on. For mil­lions of In­di­ans hunger is rou­tine, mal­nu­tri­tion rife, em­ploy­ment in­se­cure, so­cial se­cu­rity non−ex­is­tent, health care ex­pen­sive, and liveli­hood un­der threats de­spite In­dia’s ro­bust eco­nomic per­for­mance and its growth de­spite the re­cent global re­ces­sion. It is the shame that a coun­try that prides it­self on be­com­ing a fu­ture eco­nomic power in the world also has the ap­pel­la­tion of be­ing a "repub­lic of hunger" (Mo­han: 2010). This sit­u­a­tion shows a shame­ful para­dox of poverty amid plenty. In­dia has more per­sons suf­fer­ing en­demic or chronic hunger as well as ’hid­den hunger, whether mea­sured by calo­rie in­take or an­thro­po­met­ric in­di­ca­tors of mal­nu­tri­tion, than any other coun­try. One−third of the world’s mal­nour­ished chil­dren are in In­dia (Swami­nathan: 2006). Iron­i­cally farm­ers are amongst the mil­lions who go hun­gry.



Be­tween 1996 and 2012, In­dia’s pro­por­tions of un­der­nour­ished peo­ple, un­der­weight chil­dren and child mor­tal­ity have re­mained the same, de­spite the coun­try’s healthy eco­nomic growth and so­cial sec­tor spend­ing, ac­cord­ing to the find­ings of the Global Hunger In­dex 2012. In­dia’s lat­est score in Global Hunger In­dex ( GHI), as re­ported by the In­ter­na­tional Food Pol­icy Re­search In­sti­tute (IFPRI), has once again re­turned to the 1996 lev­els, af­ter show­ing a mi­nor de­te­ri­o­ra­tion be­tween 1996 and 2001. Ac­cord­ing to IFPRI, In­dia’s GHI score was 30.3 in 1990, which fell to 22.6 in 1996. It rose to 24.2 in 2001 and stood at 22.9 in 2012, al­most touch­ing the 1996 lev­els. In­dia has lagged be­hind in im­prov­ing its GHI score, de­spite strong eco­nomic growth. Af­ter a small in­crease be­tween 1998 and 2001. In­dia´s GHI score fell only slightly, and the lat­est GHI re­turned to about the 1996 level.

On the other hand, In­dia’s near­est eco­nomic ri­val China has man­aged to con­sis­tently lower its hunger in­dex scores. China’s GHI score of 11.8 in 1990 fell to 8.9 in 1996 and then fur­ther to 6.7 in 2001. In 2012, China’s in­dex stood at 5.1, among the low­est in the world. South Asia re­duced its GHI score sig­nif­i­cantly be­tween 1990 and 1996− mainly re­duc­ing the share of un­der­weight chil­dren−but could not main­tain the rapid progress. The report added that although sub−Sa­ha­ran Africa made less progress in re­duc­ing hunger since 1990s, it caught up with South Asia since the turn of the mil­len­nium when its 2012 GHI score fell be­low South Asia. Ac­cord­ing to the in­dex, much smaller na­tions such as Sri Lanka, In­done­sia, Thai­land, Pak­istan and Nepal have per­for­mance bet­ter than In­dia in re­duc­ing hunger (Ta­ble 1)


The lack of es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins and min­er­als such as io­dine, vi­ta­min A, iron, folic acid and zinc is af­fect­ing more than a third of In­dia’s peo­ple. It means that mil­lions of peo­ple in In­dia suf­fer from a sub­tle and in­sid­i­ous ’hid­den hunger’. It is not the kind of hunger that one feels in the belly but the kind that strikes at the core of one’s health and vi­tal­ity. It can cause blind­ness and brain dam­age. It can in­duce still­births and abor­tions. It makes peo­ple fa­tigue and lethar­gic. It can make killers of or­di­nary

child­hood dis­eases such as di­ar­rhea, malaria and measles. It con­trib­utes to high rates of ma­ter­nal and child deaths. It can ren­der in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion less ef­fec­tive as chil­dren are un­able to con­cen­trate on their stud­ies. Hid­den hunger silently, in­vis­i­bly traps peo­ple of en­tire coun­tries in a cy­cle of poor health, poor ed­u­ca­bil­ity, poor pro­duc­tiv­ity and con­se­quent poverty, of­ten with­out the vic­tims ever know­ing the cause.

In In­dia, per­cent­age of preva­lence of iron de­fi­ciency anaemia in chil­dren un­der 5 years is 75 and the same in women at the age of 15−49 is 51. From se­vere anaemia 22,000 ma­ter­nal deaths oc­cur an­nu­ally. Io­dine de­fi­ciency and vi­ta­min de­fi­ciency are also very high in chil­dren (Ta­ble 2).



Es­earch anal­y­sis re­veals that in be­tween 2003−04 and 2010−11, bud­getary spend­ing on so­cial in­fra­struc­ture heads (such as health and ed­u­ca­tion) grew at a com­pound an­nual growth rate (CAGR) of 18.7 per cent, ahead of CAGR of nom­i­nal GDP at 15.3 per cent. In the same pe­riod spends in all four sub−sec­tors within so­cial in­fra­struc­ture− health, ed­u­ca­tion, fam­ily wel­fare and sci­en­tific ser­vices− have grown faster than nom­i­nal GDP. The share of bud­getary spend­ing on so­cial in­fra­struc­ture in GDP in­creased from 4.1 per cent to 5.0 per cent over this pe­riod. Ex­pen­di­ture on so­cial in­fra­struc­ture picked up sharply af­ter 2008−09 and over­all spend­ing in this seg­ment grew at 24.5 per cent per year for the next three years.

The Cen­tral Government ex­pen­di­ture on so­cial ser­vices and ru­ral devel­op­ment (Plan and non−Plan) which con­trib­utes to hu­man devel­op­ment has gone up con­sis­tently over the years. It has in­creased from 13.75 per cent in 2005−06 to 19.27 per cent in 2010−11 (Ta­ble 5).

States’ ex­pen­di­ture on so­cial ser­vices rose sub­stan­tially since 2008−09, though it was not across the board, said RBI. While ed­u­ca­tion has seen in­creased fo­cus in re­cent years, ex­pen­di­ture on water sup­ply, san­i­ta­tion, pub­lic health and nat­u­ral calami­ties was rel­a­tively low (Ta­ble 6).


Data avail­able show that spend­ing on so­cial sec­tor has been in­creas­ing over pe­ri­ods but hunger and ’hide hunger’ are per­sist­ing and al­most stag­nant.

GHI scores for dif­fer­ent years are not com­pa­ra­ble, be­cause the qual­ity of data keeps im­prov­ing. But data for three ref­er­ence years− 1990, 1996 and 2001− have been made com­pa­ra­ble. In­dia’s progress since 1990 in over­all un­der­nour­ish­ment has been min­i­mal, though it has im­proved nour­ish­ment of chil­dren un­der five (by 36 per cent) and mor­tal­ity of chil­dren un­der five (by a sub­stan­tial 82 per cent). The ex­pla­na­tion is sim­ple: over­all un­der­nour­ish­ment is a legacy of the past; what hap­pens dur­ing the first few years of your life de­ter­mines your health sta­tus through­out your life. The fo­cus should, thus squarely be on en­sur­ing ef­fec­tive ac­cess of In­dia’s youngest ci­ti­zens to nour­ish­ment and health fa­cil­i­ties. Com­par­isons with the rest of South Asia are also in­struc­tive. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have shown a steady de­cline in hunger since 1990, but In­dia’s progress has been un­even. There was a sharp drop be­tween 1990 and 1996, but a set­back in 2001− from which In­dia has re­turned to about the 1996 level in 2012. Stronger eco­nomic growth than its neigh­bours has not shown up in In­dia’s so­cial sec­tor per­for­mance. Sri Lanka’s hu­man devel­op­ment record is well− known; that of Bangladesh is worth not­ing. It has wit­nessed broad−based so­cial devel­op­ment, helped by a vi­brant NGO sec­tor and pub­lic trans­fers to re­duce child mal­nu­tri­tion among the poor­est. It has also re­duced the gen­der gap in ed­u­ca­tion through pub­lic in­ter­ven­tion and over­taken In­dia on a range of so­cial in­di­ca­tors− in­clud­ing the level and rate of re­duc­tion in in­fant mor­tal­ity. It also reg­u­larly mon­i­tors child nu­tri­tional sta­tus, whereas In­dia is be­hind time in un­der­weight chil­dren statis­tics.

In Septem­ber 2010, FAO re­leased its lat­est report on hunger, find­ing that 925 mil­lion peo­ple are un­der­nour­ished−98 mil­lion fewer than in 2009. While re­leas­ing the ’Hungama’ report (2012), the Prime Min­is­ter was shocked to find 42 per cent of chil­dren mal­nour­ished. The data re­veal an un­ac­cept­able preva­lence of mal­nu­tri­tion in our chil­dren: 42.5 per cent of our chil­dren un­der the age of five years are un­der­weight (low weight for age) 48 per cent of our chil­dren are stunted (low height for age) 19.8 per cent of our chil­dren are wasted (low weight for height) In poorer states the sit­u­a­tion is even worse with over 50 per cent of chil­dren un­der­weight.

In­trigu­ingly, the fast−grow­ing econ­omy of In­dia, with a score of 23.3, fig­ures among the coun­tries with an alarming sit­u­a­tion of hunger. The more wor­ri­some fact, re­vealed upon com­par­i­son with last year’s sit­u­a­tion, is that In­dia ac­tu­ally marginally slipped in its rank­ing from 94 among 118 na­tions in 2007 to 98 among 120 na­tions in 2008. The In­dian case em­phat­i­cally un­der­scores the non−in­clu­sive na­ture of the re­cent phase of high eco­nomic growth in the coun­try, which has had lit­tle pos­i­tive im­pact for her vast ma­jor­ity of poor pop­u­la­tion.

At 7 per cent an­nual GDP growth, the coun­try’s econ­omy will climb from $4.46 tril­lion, by pur­chas­ing power par­ity (PPP), in 2011−12 to $6.30 tril­lion in 2016−17. Per−capita in­come (PPP) will rise dur­ing the same pe­riod from $3,700 to $5,100. In­dia will, thus, still be a low− in­come coun­try in 2017. The ef­fect on poverty re­duc­tion will be rel­a­tively small. Poverty lev­els are cur­rently fall­ing by around 0.9 per cent a year, ac­cord­ing to trends in the Na­tional Sam­ple Sur­vey Or­ga­ni­za­tion (NSSO). At an an­nual GDP growth rate of 7 per cent, poverty lev­els will dip by an es­ti­mated 4.5 per cent over the next five years, in line with the trend over the last decade (Mer­chant: 2012). Tak­ing 4.5 per cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion out of the tech­ni­cal def­i­ni­tion of poverty− how­ever, con­tentious the new NSSO fig­ures may be− means help­ing 50 mil­lion In­di­ans climb into a bet­ter fu­ture over the next five years. That will still, leave, ac­cord­ing to NSSO es­ti­mates, around 60 per cent, or 740 mil­lion, In­di­ans mired in poverty in 2017, 70 years af­ter In­de­pen­dence, con­sum­ing less than Rs.66 a day in cities and Rs. 35 daily in vil­lages (Ibid).

No doubt, child nutri­tion has cer­tainly im­proved in In­dia since 1980, but the rate of im­prove­ment is much less than in Latin Amer­ica and Asian coun­tries such as China, the Philip­pines and Sri Lanka (Ta­ble 8).


Above dis­cus­sion re­veals that hunger and ’hide hunger’ with poverty ra­tio is al­most stag­nant

de­spite ro­bust growth per­for­mance and healthy so­cial sec­tor spend­ing. It is clear that the vi­brant econ­omy, "the shin­ing In­dia", is re­stricted to the up­per classes, while the ma­jor­ity in Bharat ekes out a mea­gre ex­is­tence on the mar­gins and fac­ing hunger and ’hide hunger’. In­dia’s ex­tremely poor score in suc­ces­sive years in the global hunger in­dex (GHI) should re­mind pol­icy mak­ers of the un­fin­ished agenda of lib­er­al­iza­tion.

In­dia should not only fo­cus on eco­nomic growth but must have an ex­plicit and con­crete goal of "a hunger−free In­dia. The so­lu­tion for hunger lies in proper distri­bu­tion of food grain, and not in bring­ing tech­nol­ogy. To ad­dress the prob­lem of mal­nu­tri­tion, the is­sues such as qual­ity of drink­ing water, health of the per­son, and en­vi­ron­men­tal hy­giene also need to be ad­dressed.

In a coun­try where hun­dreds of mil­lions are mal­nour­ished and the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple are food in­se­cure, a uni­ver­sal sys­tem of distri­bu­tion is the one that will en­sure in­clu­sion of all the needy.


Mer­chant, Min­haz (2012): "The Cost of Mis­gov­er­nance", The Busi­ness Stan­dard, May 5. Mo­han, N Chan­dra (2010): "The Para­dox of Hunger amidst Po­ten­tial Plenty", The Busi­ness Stan­dard, April 18 Swami­nathan, Mad­hura (2006): "Eleventh Plan Ig­nores Food and Nutri­tion In­se­cu­rity", The Hindu, Septem­ber 1.

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