Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Uneven growth in India leaves one state in a food crisis

India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, yet that growth has been very uneven. One state within India is still going through a food crisis because of repeated droughts.

From the Guardian, writer Nilanjana Bhowmick talks about the state of hunger in Madhya Pradesh.

Bundelkhand lies mainly in Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state in India and the one that contains the greatest concentration of hungry people in the country. The Indian State Hunger Index released in 2008 placed Madhya Pradesh in the "extremely alarming" hunger category. The state is a glaring example of everything that is wrong with India's poverty elimination efforts.

Of the 118 countries on the global hunger index, India ranks 98th, with 214 million people going hungry. Millennium development goal 1, which looks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and provide food security by 2015, is miles off.

In 1993-94, 44.6% of people were living at below the poverty line in Madhya Pradesh. If MDG targets are to be met, that figure must go down to 22.3% by 2015. Yet, according to new poverty estimates produced by a government fact-finding commission, poverty in the state has increased by 4% to 48.6%. A survey by a local NGO revealed 83% of children are undernourished and most families go to bed on an empty stomach.

A key factor in India's plight has been the government's espousal of development at the cost of agriculture - the mainstay of people in the rural areas. Nationally, agriculture provides 67% of employment. In the last financial year, the Indian government provided around 500,000 crores (US$112bn) of subsidies and exemptions to the industrial and corporate sector, which contributes just 22% to the employment sector, while government expenditure on agriculture declined by 4.3%.

India's hunger problem has also been compounded by the high price of food over the last couple of years. A report on consumption patterns in rural India by the National Sample Survey Organisation shows a decline of 1.97%. In 2005-06, an average of 11.9kg of food grain was consumed per month, per family member, at a cost of 106 rupees ($2.38). In 2006-07, that figure came down to 11.69kg, with the cost of food increasing to 115 rupees ($2.58).

One such scheme is the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), which came into being in 2005. The scheme ensures rural people livelihood security by guaranteeing them 100 days of work every year. Under the terms of NREGA, every rural Indian has the right to work within 15 days of requesting it and without having to travel more than three miles outside their village.

Dreze, one of the chief architects of the programme, says that it provides employment to 50 million poor people every year, but he admits that the implementation has been faulty.

"NREGA is a pro-worker law implemented by an anti-worker system," he says. "One manifestation of this is the systematic resistance of the administration to any sort of accountability. All the accountability provisions - unemployment allowance, compensation for delayed payments, penalty clauses - have been sidelined. This defeats the purpose of the act."

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