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
: “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. New
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
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
’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’. India
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
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
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. India
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.
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