My friend, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA), Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission that has the responsibility of planning our future, is a very intelligent person. There is abundant evidence of his IQ being sky high.

Unfortunately, an intelligent person is not necessarily well informed, and this seems to be the case with MSA. For example, he does not seem to be aware that we have a scientific organisation called the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which also happens to be the oldest research body in India and one of the oldest in the world. It was set up as Imperial Research Fund Association in 1911. The Director-General of ICMR is, today, also the Secretary of the Department of Health Research in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare of the Government of India.

The flagship laboratory of ICMR is the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) located in Hyderabad. This institution has from time to time brought out tables of minimum nutritional requirements of Indians. The last publication in this series appeared in 2010 and was titled “National Requirements and Recommended Dietary Allowance for India”. This publication is used as a reference book all over the world.

According to this publication, the minimum requirements of a moderately active man are 400 grams (gm) of cereals, 300 gm of vegetables, 100 gm of fruits, 30 gm of oil, 80 gm of pulses and 40 gm of sugar. In Hyderabad, which is nowhere near the costliest city in the country, the above will cost, as of today, on an average, Rs.12.88, 5.22, 2.50, 1.95, 5.60 and 1.52, respectively, which totals to Rs.29.67.

MSA has said, even in a submission to the Supreme Court, that if a person spends Rs.32 in an urban area (and Rs.26 in a rural area) a day on all his requirements, he is not poor. What I have said in the preceding para means that if a person living in an urban area takes care just of his minimum nutritional requirements (with ice cream, cake, laddu, and the like, totally out of bounds), he would be left with Rs.32 minus Rs.29.67 = Rs.2.33 a day (that is, Rs.69.90 per month or approximately Rs.839 per year) to take care of his requirements of salt and spices, fuel for cooking, house rent, milk, footwear, clothing, transport, education of children, and health care, leave aside any entertainment or even a cup of tea or coffee. Would any reader agree that, even for the most thrifty, it is possible to meet the above expenditure in Rs.2.33 a day – that is, Rs.69.90 per month – anywhere in the country? A bus pass for one person for one month in Hyderabad costs Rs.555 a month (that is Rs.18.50 a day).

As there is no questioning MSA's high level of intelligence, there is only one conclusion that we can arrive at: that he is unaware of the existence of ICMR, NIN or the above-mentioned publication of NIN. And from all other accounts one has, this may be just the tip of the iceberg of ignorance.

Should not we, therefore, have a test for the Membership of Planning Commission with a special paper for its Chairman?

(The writer is a former Vic- Chairman, National Knowledge Commission and Founder-Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. His email id is: bhargava.pm@gmail.com)

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