Hungry still

India has slipped three rungs from last year’s rankings to 100th in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) for 2017. The index included 119 nations, whereas GHI-2016 had covered 118 countries. Many have criticised the incumbent BJP government for the deterioration in the situation. India has also shown a decline in its GHI score from 28.5 to 31.4 (higher scores on GHI mean the performance is worse), which “is at the high end of the serious category”.

The global index, which ranks countries on a 100-point scale, combines four indicators: undernourishment, child wasting (malnutrition), child stunting and child mortality. The GHI measure of hunger does not measure it as food deprivation alone; it looks at the matter primarily in terms of nutrition. The fourth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) showed that the percentage of children who are wasted (malnourished) or severely wasted has increased in India, despite improvements in certain pockets.

Statistics aside, the matter requires serious attention. When certain instances of malnutrition catch the eye of the media, there is a lot of hue and cry for a limited period. Things then cool down and everything is back to old ways. Lacunae in the public distribution system (PDS) are blamed for many of the incidents. But little is done to rectify the problems. The situation becomes more ironical as the country leaves tonnes of agricultural produce stocked in inadequately protected warehouses to rot away even when thousands go hungry or do not receive food that can provide adequate nutrition. Fact is that even a more robust public distribution system cannot ensure that every person receives adequate nutrition.

Of late, the Indian leadership has been focused on much bigger things than petty issues of hunger and poverty. With dreams of being counted among world superpowers, India has been desperately and unsuccessfully following up on the security council membership. Big moves being a favourite with Prime Minister Modi, demonetisation was sprung as a surprise and GST was introduced in a tearing hurry. The hunger to be remembered at any cost, has cost the nation dearly. Forced digitisation has perplexed the most humble strata of the populace, primarily farmers. The never ending process of linking Aadhaar, PAN cards, bank details, telephone numbers seems to have taken over regular work, thereby forcing hapless citizens to run from pillar to post in a complex maze. The economy has taken a nosedive while we celebrate launching of a super fast train.

The NITI Aayog has in a National Nutrition Strategy paper stated that a 10 per cent increase in open defecation leads to 0.7 per cent increase in stunting. How a certain percentage of open defecation affects child stunting or malnutrition is certainly difficult to comprehend. The desire to alter statistics and data has seduced our government, which is now freely resorting to such techniques to create a better image for itself. This kind of misinformation may dupe the less informed within the country. However, the GHI proves that India’s incapabilities are exposed over and over again to the world no matter how much our government tries to hide them.

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