As I walk down the road to my home every day from office, I find myself walking through a lane flanked by hollow bellies selling incense sticks and miscellaneous items and staring hopelessly at people walking past them ignorant of their presence. Their silent eyes and lips somehow keep screaming about their hunger that perhaps has been killing them since years. I wonder if donating food to them for an evening or two will make any difference. And the answer comes out to be a resounding “No”. For that action will fill their stomach for a night, but what about the next day? It is of no use to give fish to a hungry man, what’s useful is to teach him how to fish.
But before we can teach fishing to that starving man, we need to create ponds containing fishes in abundance. Putting it more clearly, we need to produce food in plenty and guarantee access to it to everyone. But aren’t we producing enough? Yes, we are! The real problem lies in the poor distribution and maintenance of food grains. And this is what is making India the home of the largest undernourished and hungry population in the world. Around 1/5th of the population of the country goes to bed at night with a starving stomach.
Will you believe me when I say that India produces around 200 million tons of food grains yearly? Well, that is enough to keep each one of us in the nation form starving. And you also have to trust me when I say that India has storage capacity of just 23.6 million tones. That implies, the rest of the entire huge quantity of food grain is prone to perish before it can reach a hungry person! Lack of significant action in this area is responsible for around 7000 deaths that occur in the nation every day because of hunger. How will you react when you are told that in spite of food grain production touching new heights every year in the country, nearly 40% of the fruits and vegetables and 20% of the food grains rot due to shortage of cold storage units?
Poverty is another factor that helps to aggravate the problem. Most below-poverty-line families can’t afford to purchase sufficient amount of food for their daily survival. NSSO data reveals that BPL families are spending 70% of their consumption expenditure on food, in contrast to 50% figure in APL families and 30% in urban families.
This leads to a ‘poverty trap’. Poor people who can’t afford ample healthy food become victims of diseases and ailments, which hinder their working capacity and thus lower their income. This in turn makes them poorer and hungrier by the day.
Ever heard about Public Distribution System (PDS)? If yes, then have you ever heard about its transparent and efficient functioning? I bet, you must have never heard of it. Because, in India, PDS and honesty have become opposites of each other. The system is so much ridden by corruption at various levels, that it has defied its very purpose of being a guarantor of food at inexpensive prices for the poor.
When will the government at the centre as well as the state rise out of its slumber? In spite of all the promises made by the numerous governments we have had till date, poor management of food commodities continues to plague the food sector of the nation. If the nation cannot come up with an efficient and transparent system for food distribution and cannot help to set up more storage units, India will unfortunately continue to be a nation with increasing hunger amidst plentiful food grains.