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Hunger stalks India, Modi government in denial

India’s position on the Global Hunger Index (GHI)slipped to 111 out of 125 countries in 2023 with a score of 28.7, with most of the countries behind it either suffering the rigours of civil war or reeling from the effects of external aggression.

India is not going through either though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the governments it controls, and the Sanghparivar, are doing their part to foment sectarian unrest. Yet, the country with thefifth-largest economyand ambitions of becoming a global hegemon is struggling to provide adequate nutrition, especially to its children.

Let’s begin with the GHI methodology. Scores are calculated by combining performances on undernourishment, which captures calorific deficiencies; child stunting, which measures the percentage of under-fives with heights lower than expected; child wasting, which tracks lower weight; and child mortality. Thedata used is from the United Nations or other multilateral agencies.

To get a sense of progression, India ranked (with scores in parentheses) 109 out of 125 (29.2) in 2015; 94 out of 107 (27.12) in 2021; and 107 out of 121 (29.1) in 2022. In 2000 and 2008, its scores were 38.4 and 35.5 respectively.

Thus, India’s overall scores are getting better, but they are falling behind others in providing welfare to citizens. In the subcontinent, unpardonably, it is placed only over Afghanistan. The GHI categorises the scores thus: 9.9 and less is low; 10-19.9 is moderate; 20-34.9 is serious; 35-48.9 is alarming; and above 50 is extremely alarming. India has improved from alarming in 2008 to serious.

Every year, when the GHI report is published, and, indeed, when adverse independent reports on the economy, environment, press freedom, and civil liberties/democratic rights hit the headlines, the Union government and apologists for the regime go overdrive to rubbish them. This year, too, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development has dismissed it, sayingit suffers from ‘serious methodological issues and malafide (sic) intent’. Its reaction last year was cookie-cutter.

There could be methodological issues, but offering official statistics to discredit it doesn’t cut the mustard, given the debasement of statistical procedures and numbers presented by a government that is committed to cooking them up at every opportunity. In the last decade,reports have been delayed and discontinued when they are inconvenient; and opacity has become a defining feature of incompetent and malicious governance; witness the postponement of the census and thetransfer of officers of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s establishment.

The charge ofmala fideintent is baffling. Why should international agencies have a bias against India? Because India is undergoing an ‘amrit kaal’ and the West is trying to run it down? The idea is risible. In fact, India’s authoritarian delinquencies are routinely ignored by the West because it wants to prop it up as a counterweight to China and it is a huge market.

If the GHI creators, Concern Worldwide, an Irish not-for-profit, and Welthungerhilfe, a German one, wanted to target countries threatening Western hegemony, China wouldn’t have been in the clutch of 20 countries occupying the top spot with a score of less than five.

The ministry says three out of the four indices measure children’s nutritional status and outcomes and cannot be representative of the whole population. Brilliant! The fourth was based on a sample size of 3,000 and is not representative either. This claim is incorrect. It also says that the government’s ‘Poshan Tracker’ consistently measures child wasting at 7.2 per cent against the GHI value of 18.7 per cent. Allow us to remain unconvinced by figures put out by a government given to lying all the time.

AUnited Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reportreleased in July showed India moved 415 million people out of poverty, updating the global Multidimensional Poverty Index, between 2005-6 to 2019-21 — 275 million people by 2015-16 and 140 million between then and 2019-21. The UNDP warned, however, that thelack of comprehensive data from the Covid-19 period was a concern.

TheWorld Bank updated its figures on the Poverty and Inequality Platform, showing that between March 2022 and September 2023 there was a 0.5 percentage point increase in extreme poverty (with 2019 as the baseline) using a $2.15 poverty line, with India accounting for 70 per cent of it; and the same increase using a $3.65 cut-off, with India accounting for 40 per cent. There is agreement that poverty reduction has slowed in the last few years. Covid-19 contributed, but the lack of reliable data over the past few years is telling.

If you don’t want to be found out, withhold data, or fudge it.

(Suhit K Sen is author of ‘The Paradox of Populism: The Indira Gandhi Years, 1966-1977’.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

(Published 16 October 2023, 07:19 IST)

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