Hunger continued even after lockdown, says report

Many people have no jobs, says Right to Food Campaign.

December 12, 2020 10:49 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 10:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Crucial support:  Members of an NGO distributing dry rations free of cost in west Delhi last month

Crucial support: Members of an NGO distributing dry rations free of cost in west Delhi last month

Six to seven months after the lockdown, people continued to go to bed hungry, skip meals frequently, and are unable to afford nutritious diets because of loss of income, shows the Right to Food Campaign’s survey of 4,000 people living on the margins across 11 States in September and October, calling into question the government’s decision to withdraw free grains under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) after November.

The survey, called Hunger Watch, recorded responses from marginalised and excluded communities, such as from Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minority religious communities including Muslims, 80% of whom earned less than ₹7,000 a month before the lockdown in March.

Drastic decrease

Over half of the people surveyed said their consumption of rice and wheat had decreased and 25% said this had “decreased a lot.” Similarly, 64% reported decrease in consumption of pulses, while nearly 30% said this had “decreased a lot”. On consumption of vegetables, 73% reported a drop in consumption of vegetables, while nearly 40% said there was a drastic decrease in their use.

About 71% of those who were non-vegetarians could not afford eggs or meat. When quizzed about their perception of drop in quantity of food as compared to pre-COVID 19, nearly 66% or 2/3rd of people said they were having less than the quantity they used to eat.

There was also discrimination on the lines of caste and religion while accessing food during the lockdown. One in four Dalits and one in four Muslims reported they faced discrimination and about 12% of Scheduled Tribes felt discriminated against. Similarly, sex workers, domestic workers, as well as single women faced additional difficulties as many of them have no PDS or any documents without which they were dependent entirely on charity from civil society organisations for their food requirements.

Nearly 56% of those surveyed never skipped meals before the lockdown, but in September and October nearly one in seven of them had to so “often” or “sometimes”. Nearly one in three respondents had to “sometimes” go to bed on an empty stomach, while one in 20 households did so “often.”

This drastic food insecurity is a direct result of economic precarity — 43% of those surveyed had no income immediately after the lockdown in April and May, and of these, only 3% have returned to the same income levels as pre-lockdown. As many as 56% of those without any income in the beginning of the lockdown still had no source of income.

Experts at the launch of the report also linked food insecurity with ongoing farmers’ agitation. “ Farmers must get remunerative prices but the new laws don’t guarantee minimum support prices and, therefore, there is insecurity among farmers. The Food Corporation of India and PDS will be deeply affected and will affect food security levels in the country,” said Sachin Jain from Vikas Samvaad in Bhopal.

The Right to Food Campaign also demanded a universal public distribution system that provides every individual with 10 kg grain, 1.5 kg pulses and 800 gm cooking oil for at least the next six months up to June 2021, and guarantee of 200 days of employment per household under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) under the statutory minimum wages.

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