It’s a tale of two reports: India ranks 102nd in Global Hunger Index, yet Government wants to send surplus food from overflowing granaries to ‘more deserving’ countries while millions go hungry at home.
Two reports surfaced yesterday. One about overflowing granaries and aids to more ‘deserving’ countries. And the other about India suffering a ‘serious’ level of hunger, ranking 102nd out of 117 countries in the Global Hunger Index. The glaring contrast in what they mean and represent is about hunger being an issue in India. Is it? Or is it not?
India’s state granaries are overflowing with food surplus, prompting Food dept to send an SOS to the Ministry of External Affairs.
The central pool of wheat and rice with the Food Corporation has been increasing over the years. This has led to an apparent ‘alarming’ surplus in wheat. And this also makes one skeptic. This report creates an illusion that India doesn’t itself suffer from the humanitarian crisis of ‘hunger’. It makes us believe that there are no ‘deserving’ candidates for the surplus food in the 194 million hungry and undernourished citizens of India.
Furthermore, another report on the same day noted that India stands 102nd in the Global Hunger Index 2019. So, what is the truth behind the issue of hunger being an elusive subject in India?
Alleviating Hunger is not Quantum Physics, or is it?
About 80 years ago, scientists discovered that it is possible to be in two locations at the same time. At least for an atom or a subatomic particle, such as an electron of a photon. This mind-boggling discovery also created a whole new stream of physical science which did not follow Newtonian laws. Consequently, these particles keep the best brains in the world confused about their properties. Are these particles really present at the place where they were observed or not, has boggled scientists for decades.
Alleviating hunger has unfortunately become an issue with similar properties in India. Back in 2010 too, India’s foodgrain warehouses were exploding with a surplus of rice and wheat lying rotting. These government granary stocks are meant for the poorest sections of the population at subsidies. However, because of sluggish bureaucracy and corruption, millions of tons of such surplus don’t reach the world’s largest malnourished population which incidentally calls India it’s home.
194.4 million Indians are undernourished and the government wants to send surplus wheat to ‘more deserving’ countries.
‘Hunger’ is a cruel badge that third world countries wear, but India wears it for diplomacy. As per the report, the government is looking to ‘liquidate its grain stocks’. It is doing so in order to prevent damage and minimize carrying costs domestically beyond the requirement. This means it has a surplus beyond requirement. So, does the undernourished population fall out of the diagram that encompasses demographics of requirement?
Hunger is a Serious Issue in India, whether the government likes it or not
The 2019 Global Hunger Index classifies India’s hunger crisis as ‘serious’. It ranks 102nd out of 117 countries with respect to hunger severity and undernutrition. India has the highest rate of child wasting (weight unproportionate to height) at 20.8% and child stunting (growth stagnation) at 37.9%.
While India is touting itself as a global superpower, it is also growing the world’s largest famished population and stunted future generations.
In 2019, India’s score on hunger stands at 30.3. This is an improvement from 38.8 in 2000, 38.9 in 2005, and 32 in 2010. The countries behind India are third-world African nations, war-stunted Afghanistan and a few poor island nations. What’s more embarrassing is that India performs worse in feeding its citizens than all of its neighbors, including Pakistan.
Pakistan stands at 94, while Nepal (73rd), Myanmar (69th), Sri Lanka(66th) and Bangladesh(88th) are far better. The only neighbor presumed to be more developed and even comparable, China leaves India out of sight on 25. In fact, India has downgraded two ranks from the 100th position in 2017. In such circumstances, it seems hypocritical that India can spend a whopping ₹3.18 lakh crores (1.6% of GDP) on defense but can’t alleviate hunger even with overflowing granaries.
India is happily keeping up the delusion around Hunger
Earlier in 2019, a secretary-level committee recommended the possibility of presenting surplus stocks of wheat to deserving countries as aid. Furthermore, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food, and Public Distribution made similar requests to the MEA at least twice in the last 2 years. However, one wonders why the surplus cannot be used to alleviate hunger domestically first.
The FCI and Food Ministry believe that liquidating surplus food stock as humanitarian aid to deserving foreign countries is in the best interest of the country.
In the past, India has donated food grain to some countries. However, as per a source, earlier quantities were too small. But this time the FCI wants MEA to do the aid in a ‘big way’. This means that such humanitarian aid to the deserving millions in India itself isn’t in the interest of the nation.
FCI also tries to sell the surplus through the Open Market Sales Scheme (OMSS), but with underwhelming results as only a quarter of it was sold in the September auction. India has lower market prices than the economic cost to FCI. Moreover, exporting this surplus is against the WTO norms. So, apparently giving the surplus in the form of a grant to ‘deserving’ countries is the best option. Thus, it’s almost blasphemous that the FCI and MEA are unable to explore options of presenting the food surplus as ‘humanitarian aid’ to the ‘deserving’ hungry population residing in India itself.