Do not ignore, frame policies to address hunger: Activists to Centre

They said there had been a worsening in food security both in quantity and quality compared to the pre-COVID period for about 41% of the population

October 21, 2022 08:30 pm | Updated October 22, 2022 09:01 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Photo used for representational purpose only. File

Photo used for representational purpose only. File | Photo Credit: Meeta Ahlawat

Activists of the Right to Food Campaign have accused the Centre here on Friday of diverting the issue of hunger away from the real situation on the ground and the food and nutritional insecurity in the country. Countering the Centre’s stand on the Global Hunger Index that it overlooked Central schemes and also the fact that the sample size of the survey was too small, the activists argued that the survey was validated by the national data on unemployment and stagnant wages.

They said there had been a worsening in food security both in quantity and quality compared to the pre-COVID period for about 41% of the population. The activists urged the Centre to stop inadequate policy response to address the problem and to hold the census at the earliest to find the number of people without ration cards. They said about 12 crore people in the country had not been enrolled in the ration cards.

Comments by activists

Talking to reporters, activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Dipa Sinha, Harsh Mander, Nikhil Dey and Vandana Prasad said that since 2006 India had ranked poorly in the index and it highlighted the fact that hunger and malnutrition remained a serious concern in the country. “The current situation post-COVID is even worse and is not entirely reflected in the report as the data are not available,” they said.

The activists said high levels of child malnutrition (stunting and wasting) were a reflection of food insecurity in households, poor dietary diversity, lack of maternal and child care services, low status of women and inadequate access to health and sanitation. “It is indeed a matter of concern that over 35% of children in the country are stunted (low height for age) and 19% children are wasted (low weight for height) according to the National Family Health Survey-5 (2019-2021). The WHO prevalence cut-off values for public health significance state that stunting above 30% and wasting above 15% is ‘very high’,” they said.

Ms. Sinha said in the absence of official data on hunger and food insecurity, results of independent field surveys and other information point to a concerning situation in the country. “While the results from these surveys may not be representative of the district, state or country, they do, however, tell a story of deprivation of lakhs of households in similar situations as the survey respondents. They are also validated by the national data on unemployment and stagnant wages,” she said.

Mr. Mander said all evidence points to increasing inequality and poverty in the country. He said the response of the government was marked by sheer insensitivity of the condition of millions of people who had been deeply impacted by the adverse impact of livelihood during the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns and the runaway inflation.

Mr. Dey said the MGNREGA had been squeezed in unprecedented ways. “MGNREGA’s labour budget has also been slashed to 230 crore person on days which is almost one-third less than what was spent and asked for by the states in the previous year. On top of this there are wage payments pending liabilities over ₹2300 crore with over 1.2 crore persons facing delay in wage payments,” he said.

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