Hunger and Food Security in India
Hunger and Food Security in India NC Saxena India’s excellent economic growth has had little impact on food security and nutrition levels of its population. Per capita availability as well as consumption of foodgrains has declined; the percentage of underweight children has remained stagnant between 1998 and 2006; and more than half of India’s women and three-quarters of children are anemic with no decline in the last eight years.
These are appalling figures, which place India among the most “undernourished” countries in the world. According to the GOI Economic Survey, foodgrain production in India has declined from 208 kg per annum per capita in 1996-97 to 186 kg in 2009-10, a decline of 11 per cent. Despite reduced production, Government of India has been exporting on an average 7 million tons of cereals per annum (which is highly unethical), causing availability to decline further by 15 per cent from 510 gm per day per capita in 1991 to 436 gm in 2008.
Despite the fact that growth of foodgrain production in the period 1991-2010 was lower than the increase in population during the same period, procurement of cereals on government account went up, suggesting a decline in poor people’s consumption and their purchasing power. This may have happened because of the structural imbalances (high MSP, rising capital intensity, lack of land reforms, failure of poverty alleviation programmes, no new technological breakthrough in agriculture, etc. created in the economy, as well as due to production problems in less endowed regions (erratic rainfall, soil erosion and water run-off, lack of access to credit and markets, poor communications) which led to a dangerous situation of huge surplus in FCI godowns since 2008 coupled with widespread hunger. PDS thus became a mechanism both for disposal of surplus grain with government and for augmenting consumption of the poor.
The trend of satisfactory economic growth, exports of rice/maize, and falling per capita production has continued even after 2004, leading to high open market prices, and consequently increased food insecurity. [pic] Per capita daily availability (grams) [pic] The NSSO data on consumer expenditure on food consumption indicates a declining trend in the annual per capita consumption of cereals, for all classes of people, as shown in Table 1. Table 1: Trends in cereal consumption across expenditure groups in rural India (kg per month) |Percentile | | |lowest 5 per cent|5 per cent-10 per |40 per cent-50 per |90 per cent- 95 per |95 per cent-100 per | | | |cent |cent |cent |cent | |1993-94 |9. 68 |11. 29 |13. 33 |14. 98 |15. 8 | |1999-00 |9. 78 |11. 15 |12. 89 |13. 73 |14. 19 | |2004-05 |9. 88 |10. 87 |12. 16 |12. 77 |13. 50 | NSSO 2007, 61st Round Report The above Table clearly shows that as India moved to greater prosperity in the last twenty years the cereal consumption of the rural rich went down, but there was no increase for the poor.
At any given point of time the cereal intake of the bottom 10 percent in rural India continues to be at least 20 percent less than the cereal intake of the top decile of the population, despite better access of the latter group to fruits, vegetables and meat products. Their sedentary life style too should be taken into account while assessing the difference between the two groups. For the upper segment of population the decline may be attributed to a diversification in food consumption, easy access to supply of other high value agricultural commodities, changed tastes and preferences, and consumption of more expensive non-foodgrain products.
Higher economic growth and per capita incomes thus contribute to reduction in per capita demand for cereals for the rich. However for those who are below or around the poverty line, this has to be understood as a distress phenomenon, as with marginal increase in their incomes over time they are forced to cut down on their food consumption to meet other pressing demands that were not considered important in the past. For instance, as more schools open, the poor too wish to send their children to schools, where expenses are incurred on clothes, shoes, stationery, books, etc. espite the school fees being met by government. These expenses would thus become a new item on the household budget, and food expenditure may be curtailed to make room for it. Fighting sickness leads to another chunk of essential expenses, for which opportunities did not exist in the past, as there were no doctors in the vicinity. The share of fuel and light in total consumer expenditure has risen from under 6 per cent to 10 per cent in both rural and urban areas between 1972-73 and 2004-05.
Finally, the rural labouring masses have to spend on transport in order to earn their livelihoods. Food is still needed, but not demanded for lack of money. The food budget of the poor has been squeezed out because the cost of meeting the minimum non-food requirements has increased (Sen 2005). Thus, it is not possible for households around the poverty line to purchase their initial food basket within their current food budget, unless it is subsidized. Underlying causes of hunger in India Falling per capita crop, especially food production in the last ten years.
Increasing share of surplus states and large farmers in food production, resulting in artificial surplus that is exported, thus further reducing availability of foodgrains. Increasing inequality, with only marginal increase in the per capita expenditure of the bottom 30%. From their meagre income the poor are forced to spend more on medical care, education, transport, fuel, and light, thus reducing the share of their expenditure on food. Poor access of the bottom half of the population to expensive foods, such as pulses, vegetables, oil, fruits, and meat products which provide essential proteins, fats, and micro-nutrients.
This leads to under-development of human body and mind, affecting the ability of individuals to work productively, think clearly, and resist disease. Low status of women in Indian society, their early marriage, low weight at pregnancy and illiteracy leading to low weight of new born babies. Poor childcare practices, such as not immediately starting breastfeeding after birth, no exclusively breastfeeding for the first five months, irregular and insufficient complementary feeding afterwards, and lack of quick disposal of child’s excreta.
Poor supply of government services, such as immunisation, access to medical care, and lack of priority to primary health care in government programmes. These factors combined with poor food availability in the family, unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation lead to high child under-nutrition and permanent damage to their physical and mental capabilities. Major food related programmes, such as PDS and ICDS are plagued by corruption, leakages, errors in selection, procedural delays, poor allocations and little accountability.
They also tend to discriminate against and exclude those who most need them, by social barriers of gender, age, caste, and disability; and State hostility to urban poor migrants, street and slum residents, dispersed hamlets, and unorganised workers, such as hawkers. A recent UNDP survey of 16 districts in the seven poorest states of India showed that for 7. 5 per cent of respondents access to food is highly inadequate, and for another 29 per cent of the households it is somewhat inadequate. A West Bengal government survey too reported that 15 per cent families were facing difficulties in arranging two square meals a day year round.
A survey (Mander 2008) of 474 destitute people in eight villages found that intense food shortages often demand the most unreasonable choices, such as between food and medicines, between eating to save a life and relieving unbearable pain. Most hungry people reported that their most hazardous tumble into pauperisation was because they, or a loved one, fell gravely ill. Many old people simply try to wait out an attack of illness, and if that does not work they consult a local untrained practitioner, who demands his fees in advance, never guaranteeing cure.
They do this by cutting back their food intake even further. According to FAO, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. FAO measures food insecurity in terms of calorie consumption of 1800 Kcal only (as against the norm of 2100/2400 adopted by GOI for urban/rural areas). The Table below shows that the percentage of food insecure people has declined in other developing countries, but not in India. Table 2: % of food insecure people |1991 |1996 |2001 |2006 | |China |18 |12 |10 |10 | |Indonesia |16 |11 |15 |13 | |Philippines |24 |20 |18 |15 | |Thailand |26 |18 |18 |16 | |Viet Nam |31 |22 17 |11 | |Bangladesh |38 |41 |29 |27 | |India |20 |17 |19 |21 | |Nepal |21 |20 |18 |16 | |Sri Lanka |28 |25 |20 |19 | Internationally, India is shown to be suffering from alarming hunger, ranking 66 out of the 88 developing countries studied by IFPRI in 2010. India as part of the world community has pledged to halve hunger by 2015, as stated in the Millennium Development Goal 1, but the present trends show that this target is unlikely to be met.
The state-wise picture shows that Madhya Pradesh suffers from ‘extremely alarming’ hunger, seen only in a few countries, like Congo and Niger, whereas many other states are in the category of ‘alarming’ hunger. [pic] India State Hunger Index Score [pic] Another feature of the food situation in India is the spiraling food prices, despite (or perhaps because of) excessive food stocks in government godowns. Foodgrain wholesale price index (1993-94=100) [pic] [pic] PDS In short, all indicators point to the hard fact that endemic hunger continues to afflict a large proportion of Indian population. Food and nutritional insecurity is caused by a large number of factors and hence solutions too have to be multi-sectoral in nature.
In this note we are concerned only with distribution issues through the PDS, though production issues and other programmes, such as MDM and ICDS, are equally important. With a network of more than 5 lakh Fair Price Shops (FPS) claiming to distribute annually commodities worth more than Rs 50,000 crore to about 16 crore families, the PDS in India is perhaps the largest distribution network of its type in the world. PDS is operated under the joint responsibility of the central and state governments, with the former responsible for procurement, storage, transportation (upto the district headquarters) and bulk allocation of foodgrains. Table 3: Production, Procurement & Offtake of Foodgrains (in mT) |1997-98 |2002-03 |2007-08 |2008-09 |2009-10 | |Food Subsidy in billion Rs |79 |242 |313 |436 |582 | |Production of foodgrains |192 |175 |231 |234 |218 | |Procurement of foodgrains |23. 6 |32. 3 |51. 6 |60. 4 |55 | |Distribution through FPS |17 |20. 1 |33. 5 |34. 8 |43. 3 | |Welfare schemes |2. 1 |11. 4 |3. 9 |3. |4. 3 | The state governments are responsible for distributing these foodgrains to consumers through a network of Fair Price Shops. This responsibility includes identification of families below poverty line (BPL), issue of BPL cards, and supervision and monitoring of the functioning of the Fair Price Shops. States are also responsible for movement of foodgrains from the district headquarters to the PDS shop, which requires storage at the sub-district level. As food was always a non-plan subject, such an infrastructure is often weak in the poorer states. Until 1992, the PDS had universal targeting, being available to all consumers.
GoI introduced a revamped PDS (RPDS) in 1992 in limited areas, primarily drought prone, tribal and hilly, and remotely located. The RPDS was a purely location targeted scheme, being available to all in the selected area. This has been substituted in 1997 by the Targeted PDS (TPDS), specifically aimed at BPL people in all parts of the country. State-wise BPL quota is fixed on the basis of the adjusted poverty share determined by the Planning Commission based on official poverty lines in 1993-94 (due to a Supreme Court order), adjusted for growth in population of 2000. Thus 36% of 18 crore households (6. 5 crore) are treated as BPL, rather than 37% (as per Tendulkar formula) of 23. crore households, which would have entitled 8. 5 crore households to rations at subsidised rates. Under TPDS each poor family was entitled to 10 kgs of foodgrains per month at specially subsidised prices. The allocation of foodgrains for the BPL families was increased to 20 kg wef April 2000, and to 25 Kg. per family per month with effect from July, 2001. It was further increased to 35 kg in 2003-04, which corresponds to 84 kg per annum per unit, taking the average size of family as five. The additional allocations are being made at APL rates from December, 1997 subject to availability of foodgrains in the central pool and the constraints of food subsidy.
The central issue price (CIP) for wheat and rice has remained unchanged since April 2000. According to the Food Ministry, there should have been 6. 5 crore BPL (including AAY) cards in 2000, but the actual number of cards in 2010 was 8. 6 crore BPL and 2. 4 crore AAY. Similarly against the figure of 18. 03 crore households in the country (as per the population projections on 01-03-2000), the total number of ration cards issued is around 24. 24 crores. However, not all states have identified more BPL than the number estimated by the Planning Commission, as shown in Table 4. Table 4: Actual number in lakhs of BPL/AAY cards against the GoI estimated number State |BPL households in |BPL cards |AAY cards |Total |Total BPL +AAY cards | | |2000 | | | |as % of GoI | | | | | | |estimation | |Bihar |65 |39 |25 |64 |98 | |Jharkhand |24 |15 |9 |24 |100 | |MP |41 |53 |16 |69 |168 | |Orissa |33 |38 |13 |51 |155 | |UP |107 |66 |41 |107 |100 | |Rajasthan |24 |17 |9 |26 |108 | |AP |41 |186 |16 |202 |493 | |Karnataka |31 |89 |12 |101 |326 | |Kerala |16 |15 |6 |21 |131 | |Maharashtra |65 |46 |25 |71 |109 | |Tamil Nadu |49 |179 |19 |198 |404 | |Total |652 |859 |243 |1102 |169 | Identifying the poor According to the XI Plan (volume 2, chapter 4), there are huge exclusion and inclusion errors in identifying the poor, as seen from the following Table. Table 5: Distribution of cardholders among poor and non-poor |% poor with no ration |% poor with BPL/AAY cards |% BPL/AAY cards with non-poor| | |card | | | |Rajasthan |5. 0 |23. 6 |65. 2 | |UP |16. 4 |22. 9 |48. 7 | |Bihar |25. 5 |21. 2 |45. 1 | |Assam |25. 7 |23. |56 | |Jharkhand |22. 1 |31. 9 |42. 4 | |Orissa |29. 3 |54. 8 |38. 1 | |Chhattisgarh |24. 1 |47. 9 |47 | |MP |30 |41. 9 |46. 2 | |All India |19. 1 |36 |59. 8 |
Thus more than half of the poor either have no card or have been given APL cards, and are thus excluded from the BPL benefits. These must be presumably the most poor tribal groups, women headed households, and people living in remote hamlets where administration does not reach. Thus the people most deserving of government help are deprived of such assistance. On the other hand, almost 60% of the BPL or Antyodaya cards have been given to households belonging to the non-poor category. This needs to be corrected by launching a drive to weed out errors of exclusion and inclusion. A large number of homeless and poor living in unauthorised colonies in urban areas have been denied ration cards, and are thus not able to avail of PDS, despite being Indian citizens.
A drive should be launched in collaboration with civil society to cover them in a time bound manner with ration cards. In Rangpur Pahadi, a slum area just a few kms away from Vasant Kunj (Delhi), people living since 1990 have not been given even voter ID or any ration card. Thus their very existence is denied by the Delhi Govt! The Ministry of Rural Development had done an identification census in 2002. The next census was due in 2007, but even the methodology for the new exercise has not been finalized. It is feared that we will not a new list before October, 2012. The urban poor have never been identified through an uniform and well conceived methodology/
Food Ministry should ‘own’ the PDS – The Centre cannot close its eyes to large scale fraud in PDS by taking a narrow ‘Constitutional’ position that implementation is the state’s responsibility. Food Ministry should have a greater sense of ownership of the scheme, and improve its oversight mechanisms. For instance, it should start an annual impact study of the PDS, especially in the poorer states. It is willing to spend Rs 60,000 crore on the programme but not willing to spend even Rs 60 lakh on monitoring and implementation of the programme. That means spending just about one rupee out of every one lakh rupees on monitoring. But the ministry has not conducted a single multi-disciplinary third party objective evaluation of PDS in the last seven years.
In some cases, where GOI Ministries (such as in Education and lately in Health) have intensified their monitoring efforts and started frequent Third Party evaluations of SSA and NRHM, results in the field are more satisfactory than in the Ministries, such as Tribal Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, and Women & Child Development, where they are content with just release of funds or foodgrain with little monitoring of outcomes. Thus a large number of flagship programmes, such as PDS, Forest Rights Act, and ICDS, are being run where neither the GOI nor the states are bothered with their proper implementation, consumer satisfaction, and initiating remedial action.
States have neither the will nor capacity for professional evaluation of such schemes, based on which corrective action can be taken; thus this task has to be led by GOI. If the present state of affairs is allowed to continue, the lobby within GOI that wishes to reduce safety net expenditure, and in particular food subsidy bill, would become stronger to the detriment of the interests of the poor. Thus food security is needed for all, and not only for those who are officially below the poverty line. This issue is particularly relevant for combating food related hunger, because the number of food deficit people is at least double the number of officially declared poor in India. Thus there is every case for enlarging the category of those entitled to cheaper food from government.
Therefore all out efforts should be made to increase foodgrain production and procurement, especially of millets and nutritious grains (the so-called coarse grains), so that government has enough stocks after five years to universalize PDS. In the interim the poorest 150 districts (which will cover most of the tribal majority areas in central India) should have universal PDS, as explained below. Taking the population in 2011 as 117 crores, the total number of poor as per Tendulkar Committee comes to 117*. 372 = 43. 5 crores. Out of the total 640 districts in the country, the poorest 150 districts (which are mostly rural and sparsely populated) would have about 13. 5 crore poor with a total population of 23 crores. These districts will have universal PDS with each unit receiving 84 kg per annum at Rs 2/3 per kg, with a total requirement of 19. million tonnes of foodgrains. Their present allocation may be about 10 MT, and thus the annual additional requirement for fighting hunger in the 150 poorest districts would be about 9 MT. Shift to nuclear family concept – The scale of entitlement should be changed to per unit basis rather than per household. Each adult should be entitled to 10 kg, whereas families (defined as wife, husband, and minor children) with children will get an extra 5 kg per child subject to a maximum of three children. As some families have just one or two children, GOI would save on the total requirement of foodgrains, as such families will get only 25 or 30 kg per month only.
This shift is necessary as the new BPL survey is going to recognize nuclear family, and thus the number of households is likely to increase substantially. This will also reduce harassment and corruption, as the present tendency in the districts is to lump a large number of adults in just one card. As the number of children below 18 in the total population is roughly 40%, per unit monthly entitlement would roughly come to 7 kg (which is equivalent to 35 kg for 5 units in a household), or 84 kg per annum. However this is a long term policy change, and one should not wait till this happens; one should go ahead with universalisation in the 150 districts if we are serious about preventing hunger deaths.
This shift to nuclear families should be attempted only when GOI has decided the methodology for identifying the poor in rural and urban India. A separate exercise would be meaningless and confusing. In no case export should be permitted. According to Table 1. 17 of the Economic Survey, the country exported 14. 4 MT of foodgrains in 2008-09, which is grossly anti-poor, and, combined with reluctance to release more food for PDS, has led to enormous food inflation. If basmati is to be exported, equal amount of ordinary rice must be imported. In particular, women must be regarded as head of the household for all food-related matters such as the distribution of ration cards.
Recent research has brought out the close links between maternal under-nutrition, low birthweight and child under-nutrition. India is a “copybook case” of this vicious sequence of deprivations. It also requires social access, meaning that barriers of gender, caste, disability, stigma, age etc must all be overcome. Provide cash subsidy? – Large scale substitution of PDS by direct cash transfers (DCT) is not feasible, as foodgrains purchased from the farmers through MSP mechanism need an outlet for distribution. Besides DCT needs a good banking structure, functional registration system, and widespread use of debit cards. At best it could be tried on a pilot basis in a few poor localities of metropolitan cities.
Last, India requires a significant increase of targeted investments in nutrition programmes, clinics, disease control, irrigation, rural electrification, rural roads, and other basic investments, especially in rural India, where the current budgetary allocations are inadequate. Higher public investments in these areas need to be accompanied by systemic reforms that will overhaul the present system of service delivery, including issues of control and oversight. Outlays should not be considered as an end in itself. Delivery of food based schemes requires increasing financial resources, but more importantly the quality of public expenditures in these areas. This in turn requires improving the governance, productivity and accountability of government machinery. References
Mander, Harsh 2008: Living with Hunger; Deprivation among the aged, Single Women and people with Disability, Economic & Political Weekly April 26, Planning Commission 2004, Evaluation of the Public Distribution System, New Delhi Sen Pronab 2005: Of Calories and Things: Reflections on Nutritional Norms, Poverty Lines and Consumption Behaviour in India, , Economic and Political Weekly October 22 ———————–  The share of BPL in the population of these poorest districts is assumed to be 58. 7, which compares well with the Tendulkar figure of 54. 4% for Bihar and 57. 2 for Orissa. These are the two states, which will have a large share in the list of the poorest districts.