“The One Ration One Card (ONORC) scheme plan aims to empower all National Food Security Act migrant beneficiaries to access food grains from any Fair Price Shop (FPS) of their choice anywhere in the country by using their same/existing ration card through biometric authentication.”
These were the words by the Central Government to the Supreme Court of India during June this year. As per the scheme, the government was committed to making sufficient food grains available to all the states and union territories in India at highly subsidized rates in response to the recent COVID-19 pandemic which rendered millions of people out of food. However, despite numerous efforts undertaken by the government, the grim reality is that India has not fared well in terms of food security. This is further proven true by the recent Global Hunger Index (GHI) report published last month which ranked India 101 out of 116 counties, globally. This puts India behind its neighboring countries namely, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh to name a few. As per the report, the level of hunger in the Indian subcontinent is “alarming” and extremely concerning. This year’s ranking is in stark contrast to the report published in 2020 which ranked India 94th out of 107 countries.
The Global Hunger Index report which is published annually by the Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and Germany’s Welt Hunger Hilfe arrives at its findings on the basis of four parameters – undernourishment, child stunting (percentage of children below the age of five years who have low height for their weight, reflecting chronic undernourishment), child wasting (percentage of children below the age of five years who have low weight for their height, reflecting acute undernourishment) and child mortality. The score is determined on a 100-point scale based on the aforementioned parameters. India’s score has dropped from a glaring 38.8 in 2000 to the range of 28.8-27.5 between 2012- 2021. The report ranks countries scoring between the range of 20-34.9 as acutely undernourished. The report said that while child stunting, child mortality, and undernourishment have been significantly reduced in India, child wasting has witnessed a growth from 17.1 between 1998-2002 to 17.3 between 2016-2021. The report further noted that global climate change, worsening conflicts, and the constantly increasing economic and health challenges mounting from the COVID-19 pandemic are all contributing to hunger. These factors are referred to as the 3Cs that could have devastating implications. As per the report, based on GHI trends in recent years, 47 countries of the world, in particular, will fail to achieve low hunger by 2030.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development called India’s drop in ranking “shocking” and “devoid of ground reality”. It further went on to say that the methods employed by the Index were unscientific and based on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates which do not present the actual situation on the ground. The assessment was conducted through a ‘four-question opinion poll’ which was conducted telephonically. They completely disregarded and ignored the government’s innumerable efforts towards increasing food security especially during the COVID-19 pandemic which can also be verified through data compiled by the government. The ministry showed its distaste towards the index by listing various efforts undertaken by them for the past few years. A few of these schemes include the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojna (PMGKAY) and the Atma Nirbhar Bharat Scheme (ANBS). Moreover, as per the ministry, more than 3.28 crore metric tons of food grains were allocated free of cost under the PMKAY scheme to almost 800 million beneficiaries. The government also deposited 24% of their monthly wages for three months, into the accounts of those people who were earning below Rs 15,000 in organized businesses with less than 100 workers. MNREGA wages were increased by Rs 20 to annually benefit more than 13.62 million workers and provide them an additional benefit of Rs 2000.
The publishers defended their methodology by pointing out their sources of data which include the food balance sheet of each country, the nutrition estimates given by UNESCO, WHO, and the World Bank. They also included data from India’s Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-2018 National Report which was published in 2019. They also added that it is important to understand that while GHI scores are comparable within a specific year’s report, they cannot be compared with reports published in different years due to changes in data sources and methodology. The addition of new countries for estimation could be another reason why a country’s scores could vary each year.
“If a country’s ranking changes from one year to the next, it may be in part because it is being compared to a different group of countries,” they said.
While it is unclear whether the Central Government’s condemnation of the Global Hunger Index is due to India’s drop in the ranking or the methodology employed by the publishers, India must realize where it is lacking and how it can achieve food security. To reach this goal, a multi-pronged approach is required wherein more crops are grown especially by the marginal farmers, effective implementation of a scheme to supply cooked nutritious food to the marginalized sections of the society, rural employment schemes like MNREGA must be given a much-needed boost and the Public Distribution Scheme must be simplified and Aadhar-related glitches must be prevented. To change the country’s face and ensure more people do not die of hunger, the government ought to exercise its sword of power and bring a fundamental change.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.