(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 15, 2012
Hunger, Malnutrition Stalk the Land, Belie PM’s Claims
RELEASING a report on hunger and malnutrition – HUNGaMA – conducted by some NGOs and corporates, the prime minister bemoaned that “the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame.” Indeed, it is a national shame. The prime minister, however, as can only be expected, remained silent over the bombastic claims made by his government concerning India having achieved the status of an `emerging economy’ and the euphoria over the so-called great success of 20 years of economic reforms ushered by him. These, the country was told, would automatically lead to the improved livelihood status of our people.
However, the report that he released showed that 42 per cent of our children under 5 are underweight and 59 per cent are stunted (too short for their age). This survey was conducted across 112 rural districts in 2011, covering nearly 20 per cent of Indian children. A hundred of these districts were selected from the bottom of a child development district index developed for the UNICEF in 2009.
Though the prime minister spoke in terms of revealing some startling news to the country, these findings are nothing new. Government agencies, whose coverage is much wider than the current one, have already established that these neo-liberal economic reforms ushered in by the then finance minister Manmohan Singh, two decades ago, have only succeeded in creating two Indias, with the economic differential between them widening sharply.
Let us look at some of reports by official government agencies.
Notwithstanding all the disputes over the statistics of poverty, the recently released Human Development Report of the Planning Commission shows that nearly 310 million of our people live under the officially defined poverty line. Since 1973-74, the number below this line has come down by a mere 19 million. Leaving aside the woefully inadequate measure of poverty, the depressing situation is highlighted by the fact that the overall per capita intake of calories and pulses (protein) has fallen by 8 per cent between 1983 and 2005 in rural areas and 3.3 per cent in urban areas. The alarming situation of hunger can be gauged by the fact that there is no state in the country which has an hunger index of less than 10.
The National Family Health Survey-3 (NFHS-3), conducted after a gap of six years, has shown a worrisome decline compared to the findings of NFHS-2. The percentage of children aged between 6 to 35 months suffering from anaemia rose from 74.2 to 79.2 per cent. For married women in the age group of 15 to 49, this rose from 51.8 to 56.2. For pregnant women in the same age group, the incidence of anaemia rose from 49.7 per cent to 57.9 per cent.
According to the National Family Health Survey-3, 38.4 per cent of children under age 3 are stunted, that is, they are too short for their age, and 46 per cent are underweight, that is, they are too thin for their age. 79.2 per cent of such children are anaemic. This is the condition of our mothers and children.
All reports confirm the fact that the health of our children is directly related with the livelihood status of our families. Despite all the hype of a high growth rate trajectory, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) has estimated that unemployment rate rose exponentially in 2009-10 to 9.4 per cent from 2.8 per cent in 2007. Even among the employed, only 16 per cent have a regular salary. 43 per cent are so-called self-employed and 39 per cent are casual labour.
Clinging on to a highly disputed finding of this HUNGaMA report that child underweight has decreased from 53 to 42 per cent between 2004 and 2011, the prime minister says: “This 20 per cent decline in malnourishment in the last seven years is better than the rate of decline reported in NFHS-3.” He, however, went on to add: “What concerns me and what must concern all enlightened citizens, is that 42 per cent of our children are still underweight. This is an unacceptably high occurrence.”
ironically, the prime minister heads the National Council on
Despite the repeated public protests and discussions in parliament, the condition of the Anganwadi workers remain woefully bad. Their working conditions are subhuman, with the workers drawing Rs 1500 a month and helpers Rs 750. Such are the pathetic condition of our people who are being invested with the responsibilities to fight malnutrition, and rear and nurture our children, the future of our country.
the government continues to neglect this
sector and has not even allocated the required financial resources for
universalisation of the ICDS in the country.
the prime minister is really serious about changing this dismal future
unless this trajectory of neo-liberal ‘reforms’ which enrich the rich
impoverish the poor is reversed, no substantial dent can be made in
the health of our people and, hence, of our country. This current
widening the hiatus between the two Indias needs to be abandoned and
given as concessions to the rich must, instead, be used through public
investments for building our much-needed infrastructure and generating
large-scale employment. This is the only way to improve the livelihood
of our people and, therefore, their health, for creating a better
(January 11, 2012)