The Indian economy has been slowing down for about a year. Many observers are busy discussing various economic and political problems. The the coronavirus pandemic has also pre-occupied policy makers and masses alike. However, important human development matters are losing focus in India.
Stagnant wage rates and malnutrition
The two things that should be discussed elaborately are stagnant wage rates in rural areas and malnutrition. Another important thing is the high rate of unemployment. It is reported that the unemployment rates are 5.8% among males and 3.8% among females in rural India and are 7.1% among males and 10.8 % among females in urban areas. This is historically high. Even a decade or so ago, women participation in the job market was high.
A few months ago, Professor Jayati Ghosh of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, told BE that the Indian government should give attention to those persons who lost their jobs in the organised sectors. She also advocated massive public expenditure allotment to employment generating schemes. However, the government has done the opposite. In the present Union Budget, the government has reduced the allocation for the MGNERGA scheme by 13.4%. This is lower than the last year's revised estimates of `71,002 crore. The allocation towards this programme has seen a consistent year-on-year decline between FY16 and FY19.
The demand, particularly, in rural areas has been going down. The rural sector has been the hardest hit in the present situation. The wage rate has been falling for not less than two years. A recent report shows that the prices of vegetables and other non-perishable items have also been falling. This has increased the pain and uncertainty in the rural sector. The need of the hour is to treat the rural and agricultural sectors favourably. The government needs to extend substantial support to these sectors.
Policy to eradicate extreme poverty
India has made some considerable progress in eradicating extreme poverty. The World Bank’s estimates of extreme poverty, defined as $1.9 per capita per day at 2011 purchasing power parity, show a significant decline in India from 45.9% to 13.4% between 1993 and 2015. However, according to Professor Ashoke Gulati and Kriti Khurana, India will take another 10 years to eradicate extreme poverty. In this regard, the government should take special initiatives to reach the goal of zero hunger as early as possible.
Hunger and malnutrition still an endemic crisis
In spite of achieving commendable economic growth during the last three decades, India has failed to combat malnutrition that adversely marks its socio-economic progress. Malnutrition is also a major drain on the prospects for development because malnourished children require more intense care from their parents and are less physically and intellectually productive as adults. As per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, almost 38.4% of India’s children under the age of 5 years were stunted, 35 % were underweight, and 21% suffered from wasting. The situation in some Indian states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand is even worse.
In the ‘Global Hunger Index’ published a few months ago, India was placed in the 102nd position out of 117 countries. Gulati and Khurana pointed out that the targets of ‘The National Nutrition Strategy 2017’ and ‘The National Nutrition Mission 2017’ for reducing malnutrition was optimistic.
The scholars cited a policy research undertaken by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) that women’s education has a positive multiplier effect on child health care. Secondly, access to improved sanitation and safe drinking water is also an important contributor. Thirdly, changing the dietary pattern from cereal dominance to consumption of nutritious food like livestock products, fruits, vegetables and pulses is also needed and the government should provide targeted subsidies for the economically weaker sections on these. The research also stated the importance of long term governmental policies. Additionally, the country has to adopt new agricultural technologies focusing on nutrient-enriched cereals. But nothing will be successful if the malice of malnutrition is left to the whims of policies that are governed by the market. The government has to intervene positively to reach the target.