Jan 14, 2012

Shame and shammer: PM on malnutrition

Ten years back, in April 2001, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said in his inaugural address at a national consultation on “Towards a Hunger Free India” in New Delhi: “Democracy and hunger cannot go together. A hungry stomach questions and censures the system’s failure to meet what is a basic biological need of every human being. There can be no place for hunger and poverty in a modern world in which science and technology have created conditions for abundance and equitable development.” And yet, all his government did was merely rename and ‘strengthen’ the public distribution system and to “use food stocks in an imaginative and purposeful way” to stabilise prices and boost exports.

Hunger proliferated, and malnutrition grew.

When I see Prime Minister Manmohan Singh express shock and disgust, terming malnutrition a ‘national shame’ I am not the bit surprised. Seeing the timing of the report before the coming State Assembly elections in five States, the entire exercise seems to be aimed at the electoral prospects. Releasing a report on Hunger and Malnutrition (HUNGaMA) in New Delhi recently, he said:  "the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame. Despite impressive growth in our GDP, the level of under-nutrition in the country is unacceptably high." The bigger shame of course is that it took the Prime Minister 7 years in office to feel concerned at the extent of ‘malnutrition’ that prevails among children below 6-years age.

A year back, the international child rights organisation Save the Children had come up with a damming report, which probably missed the Prime Minister’s attention. After all, we can’t blame his office for keeping the Prime Minister in the dark about the failure of the high-growth trajectory in making any significant reduction in poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Nor did he find anything unusual when the Planning Commission raised the percentage of ‘below poverty line’ population on the recommendation of Suresh Tendulkar committee report. This happen despite India’s GDP continuously remaining on a high. This is because the entire policy planning, as we know, continues to revolve around opening up for more foreign direct investment, acquiring agricultural land for the industry and providing all kinds of sops and tax-concessions to the industry in the name of ‘policy paralysis’.

The Prime Minister probably had also missed reading the report of National Family Health Survey III 2005-06 which showed that half of all children in India were under-nourished.

Shocking indictment

Another damming report “A fair Chance of Life” released in September 2010 did not hit the front pages of prominent newspapers simply because it wasn’t backed by any group of parliamentarians. Nevertheless, it was a shocking indictment of the economic paradigm that actually perpetuates hunger and malnutrition by widening economic disparities. The report said: “Of the 26 million children born every year, approximately 1.83 million died before their fifth birthday”. Half of these children actually die within a month of being born.

Half of the 1.83 million children, who die before their fifth birthday in India, actually die within a month of being born. This is a clear pointer the dismal state of health of the mothers. After all, a newly born malnourished child owes much to the impoverished mother’s health, which in turn points to the inability and inefficiency of the public distribution system to reach food to the poor and the needy. Hunger and malnutrition are closely correlated. Feeding the population is the first requisite to building up a healthy population.  Supplementary nutrition programme like the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) can only be effective if first people are adequately fed.  

The Prime Minister is right when he said: “We have believed that a mother’s education level, economic status of the family, provisions of sanitation, status of women and breast-feeding affect children’s nutrition”. Each survey validates these linkages but where is the nationwide programme to fight malnutrition on a war footing? The ICDS programme, aided by a faltering anganwadi system, is crying for attention. For 37-years now, ICDS has failed miserably to reach anywhere near its objective of ensuring child health and nutrition. It failure can be gauged from the fact that the ICDS programme operates in the 100 districts in which the HUNGaMA survey was done. The deteriorating health of the ICDS programme has to be first addressed before it can be expected to take care of expecting mothers and the children.

Still more importantly is to first understand the crucial ink between growing hunger and malnutrition and the economic policies being perpetuated. Hunger is the result of faulty economic policies which widens the gulf between the haves and have-nots; is the outcome of policies that take away community control over natural resources like water, forests and farmlands; and is also the fallout of neoliberal policies that removes social security nets and allows corporate takeover of agriculture. The more the government destroys the very foundations of agriculture forcing farmers to abandon farming and migrate into the urban cities in search of menial jobs, the more is likely to the growth in hunger and malnutrition. Instead of extending what is visibly a mere lip-sympathy to the poor and malnourished, the Prime Minister needs to recast his economic policies making it pro-people and pro-environment. 

Source: Deccan Herald, Jan 14, 2012. 

You may also like to read Dinesh Sharma's report in Mail Today
'National shame' on PM Manmohan Singh as kids go hungry  


Anonymous said...

GDP growth itself is a problem for hunger and PM's 'shock' tells that he has not visited our villages in the last so many years while he was in power. If any body do a study about the other side-children of rich class-he may again be 'shocked' to see the condition of those children- obesity, learning disabilities, cancers, diabetes, hormonal problems etc etc....


Anonymous said...

Very good Devinder - have posted and will email round on Monday.

Dinesh' article will help with a piece on Bill Gates for the Top 10% site.

May you have a rewarding 2012.

Barbara Panvel

Anonymous said...

Except negativism and criticism i do not find any thing in this post.
We can give all that information in a way that will criticize government and motivate people also. We always have an option to do something in a better way.
Sorry sir but in spite of very eyeopening information i do not like your post.

Devinder Sharma said...

There are a few people who do not want to be disturbed in their cocoon. They are happy in the world of misinformation, and are content because they probably happen to be the beneficiary of the corrupt and inefficient system. They are more than happy if it continues to be 'business as usual'.

I am therefore not the least surprised by the mail above. It is better to ignore such souls.

Devinder Sharma

Anonymous said...

Excellent Piece of Article that u wrote...es Ground Reality it surely is!

Rajanikanth said...

Politicians derive their power from the poor and bureacrats see them as an excellent source of income by grabbing money intended for the poor. The poor represent the Goose that lays their Golden Egg! Why would they want to kill it? On the other hand our intellectuals criticize "crony capitalism" and talk about the nexus between big business, MNCs, politicians and bureaucrats. Faced with these two "evils" I.e. Crony Capitalism and the Politics of Poverty, the former is the lesser of the two evils and at least provides jobs that pay more than the unorganized sector. Furthermore "crony capitalism" can be regulated whereas the Politics of Poverty is hard to grapple with.

Elizabeth M.Brantley said...

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