The Planning Commission has defined the poverty line on the basis of the recommended nutritional requirement of 2,400 calories per day for rural areas and 2,100 calories for urban areas.
India produces annually over 200 million tonnes of foodgrains and about 130 million tonnes of fruits and vegetables. In spite of India being self-sufficient and a major exporter of primary products, it is shocking to observe that over 40% of malnourished children in the world are in India. Around 54% of pregnant women and nearly the same proportion of married women are anaemic.
Malnutrition in India has two aspects. First, there are people who are extremely destitute and do not get even one meal a day. Second, there are those who are not getting the proper nutrition, i.e, their diet does not include all the essential nutrients required for healthy living.
The government needs to make effective and efficient policies with proper coordination between the Centre, states, PRI (Panchayati Raj Institutions), NGOs and Self-Help Groups. Involving PRIs is important because they know the difficulties at the ground level. More sophisticated tools should be adopted for analysis of malnutrition, such as the poverty-gap index which measures dispersion of people below the poverty line. Surely, an intensive study of malnutrition and poverty across the country is called for. The poverty gap index should be used for identifying the districts and villages badly hit by poverty, such as the Kalahandi–Bolangir–Koraput regions. After identifying these areas, the government should adopt a two-pronged approach. First, by catering to families that are the most distant from the poverty line, at a minimum possible price. Second, under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), work should be given first to those at the bottom of the economic strata. Women should be given more job opportunities, as female earners have been observed to take better care of the family. The public distribution system (PDS) should be strengthened in such areas. Progressive ration cards should be issued according to villagers’ status with respect to the poverty line. For supervision of PDS, management students, engineers and doctors can be encouraged to work for at least six weeks in these areas. This will make the system more efficient, corruption-free, and less bureaucratic. Students should get a stipend and recognition for their work as this will motivate others. Pulses and cereals should be included in PDS.
The government should also work on raising the per capita availability of nutritive food items. India occupies the 1st rank in the world, both in area and production of pulses, but the 118th position in productivity. There’s need for encouraging farmers to use modern technologies in production and storage. Malnutrition is directly related to poverty and inadequate access to nutritive food. The government not only has to make sensible policies but also implement these in the most effective manner—with result-oriented plans and feasible short-term goals.
Based on a prize-winning article in a seminar organized by the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University, on “Combating Malnutrition: Progress, Lacunae and Future Strategies”. Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org