The fact is, despite tremendous efforts by the government to provide subsidised foodgrains and a large food subsidy bill, the quality of food that a big chunk of the population consumes, is sub-standard.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 ranks India at 101 amongst 116 countries, lower than Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. Worse, we have slipped from the 94th position last year. The Global Food Security Index (FSI) 2021 had shown us in only slightly better light—71st of a group of 113 countries but with a better showing than Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh.
One can quibble over the methodology and process of data-gathering—telephonic Gallup polls—and it is possible the picture isn’t as bleak as has been made out. Experts have pointed out the size of the population can make a difference as can the quantum of resources on hand, especially the aid available. However, setting aside the comparisons with other countries, one can assess the situation dispassionately. The fact is, despite tremendous efforts by the government to provide subsidised foodgrains and a large food subsidy bill, the quality of food that a big chunk of the population consumes, is sub-standard.
GHI uses four parameters—undernourishment, child wasting and stunting, and child mortality. Since the data is not comparable with those of some previous years, India’s ranking may not have actually fallen. However, malnutrition remains rampant in underprivileged homes. The high prices of pulses, for instance, make them unaffordable. Again, the high prices of fruit put them out of reach of poor households, causing a deficiency of vitamins and minerals; this together with protein deficiencies stunts growth in children. Indeed, the information put out by the government isn’t comforting. As per the National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS V), which relates to the period 2019-20, several states had, in fact, turned in a poor show when measured by key performance indicators, including those that are considered for the GHI. For instance, stunting in children under five years old ranged 22.3–46.5%, and wasting was also prevalent across regions. Overall, according to the NFHS V, the proportion of severely wasted children had gone up in 14 states. Before that, the NFHS-4 had revealed that 38.4% of children below the age five were not tall enough for their age while close to 21% did not weigh as much as they should have. This was pre-COVID, as the data were collected between the latter half of 2019 and February 2020, and so does not take into account the impact of the pandemic on malnutrition.
The government has rolled out some schemes to combat malnutrition and hunger, such as POSHAN 2.0 and Midday Meal Scheme. However, the pace of progress has been somewhat tardy, with only 0.57% of the budget allocated for POSHAN having been utilised so far. This could have been the result of poor implementation; it is also possible several schemes have been bundled together and consequently led to a lack of focus. There has been some cutting back on budgets. In the case of the Midday Meal Scheme, for example, the budget for 2021-22 allocated approximately `11,500 crore whereas in 2014-15, the outlay was `13, 215 core. Together with additional resources, the schemes need to be fortified with more nutritional meals. We must strive harder to meet the bigger goal of providing food security for everyone.