Atanu Dey On India's Development

Hunger in India

According to UN estimates, India has the largest number of hungry people. Over 200 million, or about one-fifth of India’s population, is chronically hungry. This is an apparent paradox in a country which is food-surplus on the aggregate. The Wall Street Journal of June 25th 2004 reports that according to Indian government sources, by 2001 India had a national stockpile of around 60 million tons of rice and wheat. It goes on to say:

But with inefficiency and local mismanagement plaguing distribution, it couldn’t move the grain fast enough through the system. Some even spoiled in warehouses. A 2002 government survey concluded that 48% of children under five years old are malnourished. That’s an improvement from three decades ago and even today, given rapid population growth, the proportion of chronically hungry Indians continues to fall. But in a sign that there are limits to the Green Revolution, the absolute number of hungry people in India began to rise again in the late 1990s, according to the U.N.

The paradox is easy to resolve if one understands one basic principle: that economic policies matter. The Indian economy has been chronically mismanaged by the Congress ever since India’s independence. And now the new Congress government could continue on the same failed path of socialism that led us to this sorry state. Vote-bank politics and the command and control license-permit-quota raj is responsible. Paul Samuelson could have been speaking about India when he wrote in April 2002 (HOW TO PROSPER IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY):

The good life does not come from dramatic speeches or boisterous parades. Where economics is concerned, so far, there is nothing in sight more promising than the limited welfare democracy where public laws harness and monitor the energies and efficiencies of the somewhat free marketplace.

It is a good time to review Amartya Sen’s book of 1982, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. Here is an excerpt from Ken Arrow’s review of the book:

In a free-enterprise economy every good or service has a price, and each economic agent starts out by owning some goods or services. The rice farmer owns some land, used for producing rice, which can then be sold on the market at the going price or reserved for use by the farmer and his family. The receipts from sales can be spent on other goods—different foods, spices, clothing, and so forth. The agricultural laborer has only his or her labor to sell; the proceeds can be spent on rice or other goods. Similarly the cities contain workers who sell labor for money to buy food, shelter, and clothing, and entrepreneurs who buy goods and labor, produce other goods, sell them, and have the proceeds for personal consumption and investment in business expansion.

People will starve, then, when their entitlement is not sufficient to buy the food necessary to keep them alive. The food available to them, in short, is a question of income distribution and, more fundamentally, of their ability to provide services that others in the economy are willing to pay for.

This, of course, does not mean that the supply of food is irrelevant. A decrease in the supply of food will usually increase its price, as people compete for the scarcer quantity. This will in turn decrease their ability to buy food by using their entitlement and, if they start close enough to the margin of hunger, may drive them to the point of starvation. Further, the entitlement approach, simple as it is, enables the analyst to say something about the distribution of the burden of starvation. Farm owners and, to a lesser extent, sharecroppers, should be less affected than others because the reduction in the amount they sell is at least partly offset by the higher prices. If the reduction in supply is caused by some factor, like flood, that reduces the amount to be harvested, farm laborers are thereby more likely to be seriously affected.

I am reminded of Oliver Goldsmith’s words from his poem The Deserted Village:

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey
Where wealth accumulates and men decay

There is something rotten about India that so many people are so unconcerned about the true state of affairs. The communists are solely concerned with protecting a handful of jobs, the larger interests of the nation be damned. The government is concerned with blocking the liberalization of the economy and dragging it back to its insular autarkic pre-reform paralysis. The idiotic hype about India Shining and IT superpower crap has addled the brains of the already marginally stupid. One wonders where this is all going to lead to.

It is all karma, neh?

  • http://kaisare.net/ Niket

    Noam Chomsky in his interview/book “Propaganda and the public mind” has an interesting take on what you have spoken. He says that the number of hungry and malnourished people in India has steadily increased since 1991; and he attributes it to liberalization. Unfortunately, thats all that the book says about this issue.

  • http://www.timeisfleeting.com Sujoy Mukherjee

    The sorry state of affairs, as we see it, was caused by the Congress, based on the notion that there was no alternative to their regime. The best thing that happened to India, through the traumatic reign of the NDA is the understanding that the Congress isn’t the only party that matters at the elections.

    Unfortunate as it may be, the Congress is back to continue what it believed would be economic reforms, till the NDA made a right royal hash of it.

    Before we flay the Congress for letting the country down the way it did, we should look at the NDA’s score in this regard. Eight years is a long time, for reforms to be implemented, and as we know, the most they ever did was bicker amongst themselves.

    So even though we may hate it, let’s give this government a chance to prove that they know what they are doing, without the benefit of knowing that they are invincible.

  • http://uspeed.blogspot.com sudeep

    whats chronically hungry ? and are the figures reliable ?

  • http://www.deeshaa.org Atanu Dey

    Chronic means ligering, habitual, continuing for a long time, as opposed to acute. So chronically hungry means hunger that is persistent and lasting for years. Most of us reading this have never been chronically hungry although every once in a while we do suffer hunger as when we skip a meal because of circumstances not related to a lack of ability to pay for food.

    Are the numbers reliable? Yes, they are. They are indicative of the magnitude of the problem. So while one can argue whether is is 200 million or is it 180 million, there is no doubt that the true figures are above 100 million and somewhere below 300 million.

  • Ramesh Chandra Sethi

    Hunger in India will persist if the Government will not take proper and effective action to implement its plans and policies….At the same time in the present era we have to hand over the charge to the community people who will able to prevent persisting hunger successfully and later it will move from local level to global level.So this is the time to implement all plans in decentralised way through community or people’s participation to eradicate of chronically hunger and starvation from India.

  • Ilan Durairaj

    author exceptionally explained the problems. I haven’t seen any solution proposed by him. Is he having one?

  • http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com Chandan Patralekh

    I am here not to add something to the problem. I am here with a solution. I know its really very difficult for anyone to invest money or invest big chunk of time. But I am sure everyone can afford to click twice to help some. Yes your two click can feed a mouth. I would request you to visit http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com and see for yourself how it works. It doesn’t need you to invest money or too much of time. Its just two click of yours that going to do the magic. Do it now.

    Regards,
    Chandan

  • http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com Chandan Patralekh

    I am here not to add something to the problem. I am here with a solution. I know its really very difficult for anyone to invest money or invest big chunk of time. But I am sure everyone can afford to click twice to help some. Yes your two click can feed a mouth. I would request you to visit http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com and see for yourself how it works. It doesn’t need you to invest money or too much of time. Its just two click of yours that going to do the magic. Do it now.

    Regards,
    Chandan

  • http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com Chandan Patralekh

    I am here not to add something to the problem. I am here with a solution. I know its really very difficult for anyone to invest money or invest big chunk of time. But I am sure everyone can afford to click twice to help some. Yes your two click can feed a mouth. I would request you to visit http://helpthehungry.blogspot.com and see for yourself how it works. It doesn’t need you to invest money or too much of time. Its just two click of yours that going to do the magic. Do it now.

    Regards,
    Chandan

  • Nithiya

    I would like to get some information on the Rights of the people over the PDS and BPL that seem to give atleast a short term relief. Could someone give 10 points for people to know about PDS and 10 Points on BPL? – what are the Govenment laws on PDS in helping the poor? Who are eligible to get BPL? how should they claim for it? Whom we can approach for their help?
    -Please help with your expertise.
    - Nithiya (nithiyas@gmail.com)