Over the past decade India has grown at a rapid pace. But the bright GDP (Gross Domestic Product) figures get poor publicity when they are seen along with income inequalities. It is estimated that around 400 million people are living below poverty line (BPL). In India 42% of children under the age of 5 are underweight, almost double that of sub-Saharan Africa. The Prime Minister has described this as national shame. However If proponents of high growth are to be believed, the increased growth is putting more money in the hands of poor due to employment guarantee schemes undertaken by the government.
Then, why the majority of world's malnourished children are in India?
There are several reasons for it. The problem of plenty is once again troubling the Indian government as it does not know where to store the bumper grains to be harvested for the third year in a row. Fears are rising that the grains would be out in the open, rot and be eaten by rodents even as millions go hungry in the country. Thus there is lack of godowns to store food grains. The government's plans to create additional storage space have so far moved at a snail's pace. For instance, of the additional storage capacity of 19 million tonnes (MT) planned by 2012-13 through public-private partnership (PPP), only 0.5 MT could be created until January 2012.
Then there is the problem of an inefficient and corruption-prone distribution system. Investigations have found millions of dollars worth of grain meant for poor families had been siphoned off and sold locally and abroad in a scam involving hundreds of government officials. Currently only 30% of the food grain is being lifted from the market for PDS.
The government has promised a new food security bill to provide cheap food for the poor, but progress has been slow. There are also doubts that the new scheme will be less corrupt, more efficient or better targeted than current programmes, and whether the government can afford such a scheme that may cost as much as USD $12 bn in additional subsidies a year.
The reality is that a country desperate to take its place at the world's top table is unwilling to commit to feeding its own population.