In October, each year, the Global Hunger Index (GHI) is published. This year, India ranked 103rd out of 119 countries- down three positions from last year. Some of her South Asian neighbours fared better with Nepal ranked 72nd and Bangladesh 86th. India is now known for its high GDP growth at 7% and above, and is touted as the sixth largest economy of the world beating France in the last financial year. It is expected to overtake the United Kingdom next year to take the fifth position. Why then the mismatch between its GHI and GDP firgures? It is claimed that high GDP does not necessary mean the fruits of high income would reach all. For this, the government needs to take a proper targeted policy.
GHI and its measurement
It is a multidimensional measure by assigning a numerical score based on several aspects of hunger. It is measured by four components. One, the proportion of the undernourished as a percentage of the total population, 2) the proportion of children under the age of five suffering from temporary undernourishment, 3) the proportion of children under the age of five suffering from chronic malnutrition, and 4) the mortality rate of children under the age of five.
The index ranks countries on a 100-point scale. Here 0 represents the best score, that is, no hunger and 100 represents the worst. Values from 0 to 9.9 reflect low hunger; values from 20 to 34.9 indicate serious hunger. Values above that represent more and more severe hunger. India got 31.1 in the 2018 ranking.
Possible reasons behind India’s poor score in GHI
India is much ahead of most of countries of the world in GDP. A high GDP rate has been a focus area of the present and past governments. It is true that higher GDP helps to increase the tax revenue of the government and also increase the scope of increased income of the people. But it is being realised that people’s welfare is not similarly related to the increasing GDP of a country. The immediate example that comes to one’s mind is lack of sufficient job opportunity in the economy. A permanent decent job is the single most important necessary factor of well being of a family. The present government is highly criticized for not creating enough job opportunities in the economy. The government has been trying to give evidence showing enhancement of job opportunities in the economy, mainly, based on Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) membership data. But that was hardly convincing to a large number of economists and policy makers. Later, the newly appointed Chief Statistician of India, Praveen Shrivastav, reportedly said that EPFO membership, at best, is a measure of formalisation of the work force and in no way represents the extent of job creation.
In a recent article in a national media, Himanshu, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru Unversity, New Delhi, pointed out some rural survey results showing how the households are increasingly being dependent on multi-activity sources for livelihood. The surveys found that almost three-fourths of households would have more than two occupations. Himanshu has also pointed out his own survey of Palanpur village of Uttar Pradesh showing less than 10% of households engaged in cultivation only. Now question is what does it suggest? One can draw the conclusion that earning of livelihood has been a growing problem in the country. As a result, adults are more and more involved in earning livelihood and consequently, taking care of family affairs like looking after children’s’ health and education, get sidelined.
In India, the public health situation including safe drinking water is not at all good. Except in some states like Kerala and Himachal Pradesh, most of the states do not provide adequate health services to the people. The existing Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) has been implemented in the last 30 years throughout the country. This has been designed to address the cause of children’s malnutrition and other health-related issues. But several studies reveal that it has many implementation complications.
The public distribution system (PDS) is to be developed. In most states, the PDS has been poorly shaped. In a recent study (EPW, September, 15, 2018) by ManjariSinha, a Ph.D scholar at School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in a populous tribal belt of Jharkhand, it was found that on being asked about the PDS, a majority of the respondents (85.5%) replied that there were fair price shops in their locality but they received only rice wheat, sugar, salt, and kerosene. Out of them, 81% received kerosene only and 51% rice only. In that survey, a majority of the respondents (80.5%) replied what they get from their fair price shops is insufficient to meet their family’s needs for even half a month.
The mid-day meal system can be an effective means to deal with malnutrition. But proper vigilance is needed for running the programme effectively.
Is the present economic model responsible for it?
It has been widely reported that Indian economic policy is not generating decent jobs by a sufficient amount. The economic growth of GDP is around 7% or more but the job opportunity is increasing by less than 1% in the same period. Professor Amiya Kumar Bagchi, Director, Institute of Development Studies, Kolkata, thinks that the government is pro-big industrialists. Providing food to all the citizens does not seem to be a big priority. Therefore, it is not surprising that huger and malnutrition are rising. Himanshu’s article similarly claims, “... unfortunately, no government including this one, is willing to acknowledge that the problem is essentially one of the model of growth that we have followed in the last three decades, which prioritize profit over wages, non-farm over farm and capitalists over workers.”
This kind of skewed growth doesn’t bode well for socio-economic development of the country.