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Bharat Mitra’s Editor- Balmukund Gupta’s sarcastic poetry in 1890s:

People dying of hunger, what to do for them?
Uncle says; listen son, which wicked person misguided you?
Quickly shut off door of house, must mind own affairs;
Sit in home & eat happily, let nation & dress d go to hell


Oh Riches! Don’t you hear cries of poor & destitute?
Shame on life of those whose neighbour dies of hunger.
No path to care for hungry?
stomachs are full till nose with sweets

                   Hindustan. 1890

Malnutrition in India: some newspaper extract from Newspaper Watch

 17 July 2011

The Prime Minister of India has called for a second green revolution that is broad-based, inclusive and sustainable for ensuring food security for India and rightly so-“...though we have achieved self sufficiency in cereal production, we continue to depend on imports for pulses and edible oils. We continue to face the problem of under-nutrition, particularly among our children and women”. This news has been prominently covered by Financial Express on its front page. But, look right, the next news item shouts-“Ban on wheat export lifted, says Pawar”! The paper has lifted this news from leading news agency of India, seems more like a press brief from the Ministry! Surely, Financial Express could have gone further and questioned Agriculture Minister’s decision to export wheat after 4 years of ban, when “We continue to face the problem of under-nutrition, particularly among our children and women”! Who gains from this export- not the mainstreet, not the farmers but only export houses? But the front page news in Business Standard sounds more worried that traders might not really benefit as global commodity price of wheat has gone down, Russia is selling at $244/tonne, while India may price it at $300/tonne! So, is it a bad idea to distribute the so called surplus wheat among the malnourished in India?

7 July 2011

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) is certainly not in best of the books of the millions who hardly eat  a full meal everyday. Last year, Supreme Court of India had directed the government to ensure free distribution of food grains to the hungry and poor instead of allowing it to rot in godowns of FCI but the Union Agriculture Minister seemed unmoved- “Distribution of foodgrains will not be possible..”. This apathy forced the Supreme Court of India to again reiterate its order and directed Central Government to conduct a fresh survey to identify the number of families living below povery line. But who is poor? SARCAJC has been bringing to light the attempt to underestimate level  of poverty. Before poor are correctly identified, FCI wants to export wheat and rice to ease pressure on godowns and has sought orders from the government. Pressure on godowns! Remember, last year, Headlines Today had found FCI store being rented to Liquor wholesalers in Jaipur, while wheat was left to rot in the open! Is this this case now too? Of the 25 newspapers scanned, only 3 carried this news of possible export of wheat & rice on their inner pages, but none asked-why export rice & wheat, when we have hungry & malnurished poor at home?

6 July 2011

Good news for the mainstreet is pouring in- Governor of Reserve Bank of India has finally acknowledged that consumer price index (CPI) works better than wholesale price index (WPI) in capturing market dynamics and arriving at a more realistic inflation forecast! Well, that’s what we have been showing for long; with regular visits to the vegetable markets! But that’s half the job done, the abnormal difference between wholesale & retail price of vegetable and fruits needs to be tackled at priority bias.

Now, the second part of the good news- the Governor has also conceded that employment data in India is of poor quality (that’s what we pointed earlier too!)- "Reserve Bank, we are handicapped by the reliability of some of the basic data that we need to use in policy calculations..The recently put-out data on employment throw up a paradox as they simultaneously indicate fewer jobs created in the five-year period in 2010 along with a decline in the long-term unemployment rate". Yes, at least for the first time, quality of data has been has been questioned at the highest level in RBI! An Annual employment survey on cards now?

5 July 2011

The Prime Minister’s office has called for an "analysis of policies issues, evaluation of schemes and their impact on farm economy "in the survey from the agriculture ministry. This is indeed a welcome move and should have made it to front page of leading newspapers. But of 25 newspapers scanned, only Hindustan Times is carrying this important news- but at page 11. According to Zia Haq & Shekhar Iyer- "the Prime Minister wants an annual agriculture survey from next year- a move aimed at recasting government priorities that are considered hooked to the industry". The significance of this annual agriculture survey is more than the fact this is the first initiative in India of its kind, but it comes at time when it is needed the most.

There is no shortage of food in our country; in fact ten Indian States have been selected for the newly instituted first krishi karman awards for best performance in raising production of food grain. Three awards will be given for total food grain production and four awards for production of rice, wheat, coarse cereals and pulses. But then why is food inflation cutting pockets of the common man? If you have been closely following price rise series of SARCAJC- voices of farmers as women you would know the answer. Kaushik Basu, Chief Economic Advisor, just back from US, has declared, wto days back, in an interview to Times of India- "I have to warn you that the overall food price index will not come down.." .Why, when our food stocks are overflowing like never before, he didn’t explain the logic.

It seems core economic team had overlooked the domestic greed play at the ground level. Just a recap, when global financial turmoil occurred & the West went under, it did not affect India because India was not fully integrated in the world economy. Now, when India is sitting on large amount of foodgrains, why should the price in the international commodity market affect us? Is it incorrect to state that it is immortal to export food grains to reap benefits of high commodity prices by exporters when there our country contains world’s majority of children- hungry and malnutrition in the country- all at the cost of producer as well as the consumer? The latest report by IFPRI had pointed out that India is among countries with ‘hunger levels considerably higher than their gross national income per capita would suggest". Further, Dr. Rangarajan’s [chief of Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council) logic that by the end of March, inflation rate will come down to 6.5 percent, seems more like an astrologer’s prediction. In the month of May, the RBI chief D. Subbarao had assured- ‘Inflation would come down soon. The RBI, in its mid-quarter review on June 17, would assess the prevailing inflation and take suitable monetary measures as and when required". The Governor had reiterated that if inflation is not checked, it would affect growth and common people would be its major victims. Anyone listening?
1 June 2011

Led by faculty from Indian statistical institute, many have written a letter to the Chairperson of UPA-II, which has appeared on the Editorial page of Economic Times. Here, they emphasize that food security Act should not mandate a single, rigid form of delivery, reform of PDS and alternate systems of subsidy delivery and subsidy delivery should be left open to experimentation. They also advocate for direct transfers including cash- which has been throne of contention for long.  Nothing new, Economic surveys have echoed similar tone: 

...When it comes to distribution and mitigation of poverty, Government has to be more proactive with policy is best not to distort prices to subsidize the poor but to give the subsidy to the poor directly. We may as a first step try this on one product, such as kerosene, by handing over the subsidy to the poor in the form of a smart card: and letting them buy kerosene from the market at market price. This will improve targeting and cut out corruption. It is true that the poor may misuse some of these subsidises on non-essentials, but it is surely better for the poor to do so than for the shopkeeper to do so using the subsidy meant for the poor...”( Economic Survey. 2010-11)

..prices are best left to the market. If we want to ensure that poor consumers are not exposed to the vagaries of the market, the best way to intervene is to help the poor directly instead of trying to control prices, which almost invariably does more harm than good in the long run, and often even not so long run..the subsidy should be handed over directly to the households, instead of giving it to the PDS storekeeper in form of cheap grain....(Economic Survey 2009-10) may be useful to introduce food stamps/coupons which may be valid outside the PDS outlets once the markets get better integrated..(Economic Survey. 2008-09)

If one goes by the policy of no intervention in the market; no procurement and hence no buffer stock in hands of government, how will the government protect the poor? Direct transfer to the poor carry no weight as retail prices are being controlled by unregulated greed, and last not the least the market fails to deliver public good. Many friends of SARCAJC point that there is no guarantee that cash received by the poor will be ultised to buy food, here too there is possibility of big leakage (read buying liquor).

So, it's quite possible that at the end of the day, malnutrition stays or goes up for the vulnerable- women and children.  Not to forget that heavy subsidy burden adds to taxpayer’s outflows. The way out- follow the Tamil Nadu’s model of effective public distribution system?

31 May 2011

 India still continues to hold the tag of a mystic land to many. Perhaps, the greatest mystery, which is getting to nerves of the Indian economists is- poverty! Who should be called as poor, exact number of poor, realistic poverty line, effective implementation of social security programmes...list seems endless? Wait; look ahead, the road for high economic growth has finally arrived. The Gini-toll-tax led mystic haze appears to be engulfing the real cause of price rise of food, and hence fundamental question- why the net consumer as well as producer in India is a loser, while the middlemen are allowed to play the greed game- unregulated! The equilibrium gets distorted; reflects on SPSS spreadsheets, the model and all that statistical jargon! The directions by Supreme Court of India, Report by the World Bank and constant nagging by members of National Advisory Council have tried to clear the clouds but who can predict the outcome, the wet monsoon is round the corner! Meanwhile, should the malnourished children wait for the photo-shoot for a glossy report that will be  presented in yet another international conference in a five star environment? Any immediate solution in hand? Or should one take some clue from following advertisements that have appeared today in classified section of leading newspapers in Hindi, you decide:

Guaranteed solution by astrology get solution to all problems by sitting at home....

100% astrological science, without asking listen to truth in phone at home, problems could be any guaranteed solution....

Fees after work gets done...guaranteed solution to all problems while sitting at home in 3 hours...

25 May 2011
None of the leading newspapers have bothered to focus their editorial on the implications of protest by members of National Advisory Council regarding the new level of poverty line. Of the 31 newspapers scanned today, the editorial of the day has been carried by Nai Duniya, The heading is far too explicit- “Fun of Poor”. Take a clue- “Despite well known fact that majority of Indians are poor, no one knows correctly the number of poor in the country. This is height of disconnect with ground realities. ...In reality, the criteria adopted by planners sitting in the government work more to hide poverty than to measure it. This is the reason for stand-off between the Planning Commission and National Advisory Council...The question is why our planners want to hide real picture of poverty?  It’s obvious by doing this they want to prove success of present economic policies and reduce subsidies...”. What about the other side? Times of India, page 18 quotes the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission’s views from a paper published in recent issue of Economic & Political Weekly –‘’rich-poor divide reportage warped’.  He has blamed the media for ‘disproportionately’ showing stories of widening disparities between rich & poor.  Are these all mere stories or fact of life for people who struggle with poverty, price rise, unemployment...? Surely, these are not stories- told & forgotten, as Supreme Court of India has taken up the cause raised by a PIL and even the World Bank also has not painted a healthy picture of the state of social security programmes. However, the newspaper does not inform that Montek Singh’s views are around 6 months old that were delivered in Canberra University in November 2010! Any guess regarding post-script?

24 May 2011

It is an open secret (for long) that price rise has hit the main street in its worst form. But is this a serious concern for the emerging economy?  Remember, most newspapers had celebrated the rise in per capital income too. So what’s the problem, look ahead, now perhaps another landmark in making- an Indian head of IMF!

It's not surprising to view that Times of India, the leading newspaper is carrying the news of protest by members of National Advisory Council at the Planning Commission on page 14 (read not on front page)! A friend of SARCAJC point the leading financial daily in English as well as leading newspapers in Hindi have completely ignored this protest. This protest was against the Planning Commission’s new poverty line cut off (for identification of poor) -mere Rs 20 worth daily expenditure per person in urban areas and more Rs15 in rural areas. Is it possible to even survive in a city like Delhi on Rs. 578 with a family of five- old non working parents, two small kids and a non working wife? And if you’re spending Rs. 579 per month- you’re no poor and are not entitled for the subsidized food under Public Distribution! And no, it’s not an error in a complex economic model.  Nitin reveals- “fudging parameter to reduce number of poor”. The Planning Commission has scaled down minimum calories stipulated per person from present level of 2100 to 1800 Kcalories. The reason- FAO has suggested 1800 Kcal, but for those living a sedentary lifestyle with little or no physical work! Were 92% of Indians not employed in the unorganised sector? They do little or no physical work!  Is this a crude economic joke? The leading corporate economists are playing silent observers! A friend of SARCAJC argues that this reflects a total disconnect with the reality, only to reduce the number of poor and shout –‘inclusive growth?’.  Is economics is a social science? Ask the malnourished kids?

15 May 2011

The Supreme Court of India has directed immediate release of 5 million tonnes of food grains to 150 poorest districts prevent starvation deaths and malnutrition. The comment of Bench is noteworthy- “A number of cases of malnutrition and starvation are reported from time to time..there are 44 million tonnes of stocks. Perhaps never before have foodgrain stocks been so high. The bumper crop of this season will further improve the situation of existing stocks..Millions of tonnes of foodgrains are lying in the open for years because of inadequate capacity. Admittedly, about 55,000 tonnes of foodgrains rotted in Punjab and Haryana...Looking to the enormity and gravity of the problem, as a one-time measure, it is absolutely imperative in the larger public interest to direct the Union of India to reserve another 5 million tonnes of foodgrains for distribution to the 150 districts or extremely poor and vulnerable sections of our society. This additional 5 million tonnes of foodgrains would be over and above 5 million tonnes ...”. Someone has to take the blame for faulty policy formulation (read insensitivity towards malnutrition) that forced Supreme Court to intervene in this case. Malnourished poor are all across the country and malnourishment is bound to increase by the multiplier effect of recent price rise of petrol by Rs. 5. The regular media savvy leading corporate economists seem have disappeared from front page of newspapers. The present storage facilities are already full with grain and market is overflowing with fresh stock of bumper crop. Jatinder Preet informs in Sunday Guardian that grains will rot for the lack of storage facilities. Last year around 50,000 metric tonnes of grain rotted across the country, 1.37 lakh MT of wheat is lying in the open since 2008-09, which may fall upon the same fate.

Point to ponder- are godowns of Food Corporation of India (FCI) really full of grains, or have been rented  out for storage of liquor as in Rajasthan (reported last year by Mail Today)?

12 May 2011

According to UNICEF, 50% of all the deaths of children aged below five years are from malnutrition. NItin Sethi informs in Times of India that heath & women and child development ministries have refused to give an affidavit to the Supreme Court of India on how many children die of hunger in India every year. Now, Supreme Court has directed the ministries to file the affidavit by Friday. Point to ponder- why the reluctance to tell the number of children who die of hunger in era of high GDP growth?

Even social structure has changed, where son does not care about his old parents in times of high inflation. watch following video:

11 May 2011

Take Action: The bright GDP figures get poor publicity when they are seen along with income inequalities, but the obsession for high growth remains intact. Today, a noted economist & columnist has gone ahead and argued in Economic Times against Gini Coefficient all together! When will this obsession end? 

If proponents of high growth are to be believed, the rise in food prices is due to increased demand as poor are getting more money due to employment guarantee progamme. Then, why the majority of world’s malnourished children are in India? Why 2500 kids die in India every day due to malnutrition? Why interest seems more to export overflowing foodgrains rather than to distribute it among the poor? But first, what is the magnitude of poor in the country?

The Supreme Court of India has been informed now about the rationale behind below poverty line (BPL). The BPL is based on old data set of 2004-05, which sets only those spending less than Rs. 20 per day (Urban area) and Rs 15 (in rural area) are poor. Accordingly only 37.2% of Indians are below poverty line. Can the Planning Commission even imagine, that a human can even survive at this merger amount in such inflationary times? Why the old data set of 2004-05 has till date not being revised, to keep poverty figures down? Well, ask the pain of hunger to starving Lakshman Arakh of Goira Mugli village in Bundelkhand who has appeared in Mail Today.

Point to ponder- why can’t beneficiary of high growth display extra-role behaviour and save poor children from malnutrition?

Take a clue from school children in Oslo who are making a school in Bangladesh for poor children. Indian Kids going to affluent schools wake up!

21 April 2011

Is GDP growth an ultimate aim or a means to attain human development? Take a clue from Supreme Court of India-"We cannot have two Indias. You want the world to believe we are the strongest emerging economy, but millions of poor and hungry people are a stark contrast.. It is a tragedy of sorts. We have our food granaries full and in many places overflowing. And the prediction is for a bumper crop this year. If that is so, why not allocate substantial food grain to take care of hunger and malnutrition?..". What do you think?

11 February 2011

Right to Food: In the recently held World Economic Forum a  key part of the government  stressed that there is no hunger in the country, though poverty existed. But hunger in small children was very much visible in the  video captured by Team SARCAJC in post area of Delhi, Yes, the issue of  hidden hunger- high malnutrition cannot be ignored.  Now, the  Prime Minister has cleared the relationship-  malnutrition was not only a consequence of poverty but also a cause of poverty- "The problem of hidden hunger—that is, deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals, such as iron, Vitamin A and iodine — is also severe. Nutrition is therefore a serious challenge that has not received the attention it truly deserves". While addressing an International Conference on 'Leveraging Agriculture for improving Nutrition & Health" he said that government was committed to bring to parliament a Right to Food Act which would serve as a viable safety net for the poor and the vulnerable sections among whom malnutrition was particularly high. This is not the first time he has spoken about malnutrition. Not so long ago, speaking at Prime Minister’s National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, he had said that the problem of malnutrition was a complex one caused by multiple factors and with long term consequences on the growth, development and well being of the nation. Further, he stressed that the rates of reduction in under-nutrition over time have been disappointingly low and was simply unacceptable and there was  a need to launch a nation wide campaign, coordinated by the Ministry of Women & Child Development, in consultation with Planning Commission, experts, civil society organizations. A friend of SARCAJC suggests that forget the campaign, on a practical level, Panchayats in very village must be held responsible for delivery of nutritious meal a day in midday meal in school to every child. And if leakages crop up, public grievance redressal at the State & Central level must be geared up to take immediate action without any delay.