First, the bad news. Sinking steadily since 2015, India has ranked 102 among 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index, released on World Food Day this week. A nationwide survey by the Right to Food campaign last year counted 56 adult starvation deaths (42 of which occurred after the government mandated linking of ration cards and Aadhaar). Every day, malnutrition leads to 4,500 child deaths. The National Health Survey reports that 19 crore Indians are compelled to sleep daily on an empty stomach, and malnutrition has led to the stunting of 37.9 per cent of our child population. It doesn’t need a world body to confirm that India is one of 45 countries where hunger exists at “serious levels”. The situation was dire enough for the Supreme Court to take it up this September.
The good news, however, is that our agricultural output is rising. This season, the Food Corporation of India has found itself with a surplus stock of several lakh tonnes. It wants to liquidate that grain quickly to accommodate the new harvest. Failing to dispose of it through the open market sale scheme, or e-auctions, it has decided to donate it as aid to foreign nations. The uncomfortably obvious questions are: what stopped it from increasing BPL allocations and why was the 2019-20 per quintal paddy MSP hike a measly 3.1 per cent for farmers? Buoyed by meteorological forecasts, the government fixed a high kharif production target that was exceeded by them. In the age of quick tweets and big propaganda, should it not have at least conveyed its congratulations? That would have been “lip service” no doubt, but its absence tells the whole story.