“For now I ask no more than the justice of eating.”
Hunger is the most overpowering feeling. It is the most basic of all basic human instincts. A hungry man sees no good or bad. All he sees is food. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “A hungry man has only one God, that is food!” It is also true that only those who sleep on empty stomachs, understand the importance of food. It is unfortunate that our nation ranks 55 on a list of 76 nations as far as the Global Hunger Index is concerned. Many experts are seen congratulating the government agencies on their phenomenal performance in bringing about a transformation from the 63rd nation to the 55th nation. But we got to ask ourselves, “Is it something we should be proud of? Ranking 55 among 76 nations on the GHI, when we take pride in being one of the G-20 nations of the world.” Of course India has shown improvement in this regard, but with a nation as large as India, with so much agricultural production and surplus cereals which is exported to other nations, India should have fared better.
Apparently our policy makers are happy comparing the condition of Pakistan and Bangladesh with that of India. It is the same mentality majority of Indians have during cricket matches. Nobody bothers if India loses the series, if they beat Pakistan. Such mentality is to be done away with. India is now an aspiring Superpower. It has to look beyond the sub-continent and compete with nations that are worth competing.
One of the biggest undertakings by the government to counter hunger has been the National Food Security Bill. It was an ambitious bill and was expected to benefit 82 crore people. At ₹ 1,30,000 crore, the food security programme is the largest in the world and requires 62 million tonnes of food grains. Some of its salient features were:
- 75 percent of rural and 50 percent of the urban population entitled to five kg food grains per month at ₹ 3, ₹ 2, ₹ 1 per kg for rice, wheat and coarse grains, respectively.
- Pregnant women and lactating mothers entitled to nutritious meals and maternity benefits of at least ₹ 6,000 for six months.
- The central government will provide funds to states in case of short supply of food grain.
- The state government will provide food security allowance to the beneficiaries in case of non-supply of food grain.
- The eldest women in the household, 18 years or above, will be the head of the household for the issue of the ration card.
To what extent was the bill implemented in the ground level is a question yet to be answered, however, it certainly did help the root cause behind the bill. But the greatest mistake our policy makers could make at this point is to get complacent. The fight has only just begun. There are still many states where seeing the number of hungry people wrenches one’s heart. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and West Bengal are the frontrunners in the count of hungry people. It is a matter of shame that nations like Nepal and Sri Lanka are at a better position in handling hunger than India is.
More policies and bills like the National Food Security Bill need to be passed and more importantly implemented honestly at the grass root level. The new government has made a positive start in most regards. Hopefully this matter will find a place in the higher ranks of the to-do list of the government as it is of no less importance than Defence, Finance and Trade. We must realise that no matter how many foreign retailers we bring to our markets, we can never really develop if the poor remain poor and hungry. The real test of a nation is in providing the most elementary resources and facilities to the common people. While most developed nations have successfully achieved this landmark, India still finds itself battling the lower ranks on the GHI. Only African nations and few under developed or developing nations of Asia are behind us. It is high time we pull up our socks, get our acts together and take a solemn resolve to eradicate hunger from the face of the nation once and for all.
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