There are claims that the Indian economy has seen growth in the last five years but a peculiarity about this growth is that surprisingly there has also been a corresponding rise in the hunger index during the same years in question. The main reason for this is that though the economy has been growing it has not resulted in reducing poverty in the country. There is no other country in the world which has witnessed a similar phenomenon and India is by far the only country where this has occurred. Experts have attributed this instance to the fact that only 10-15% of the Indian population has improved the country’s economy so to say, but it has been at the cost of the rest of the massive population that has been left out of the ambit of economic gains. Meaning that just a select few benefit from the country’s large economy while literally the whole of the country’s poor suffer by the day dwelling in dismal poverty.
Being poor also means that 80-90% of a poor man’s income is spent just on food, and since prices have been increasing over the years, it effectively results in less food in their stomachs. Post Covid can be devastating on the poor with rise in unemployment, salary cuts and rising inflation. An urgent concern in the preceding years has been that even if there was food security, with enough wheat and rice in stock, the question remains whether people are getting enough micronutrients and vitamins also in their diets. Medical research has shown that if a child is not fed properly during the first five years its brains do not develop and this in later years affects their productivity as adults, which again in turn is detrimental to the country’s progress. This damage done in the first 18 months of a child’s life is irreversible.
Malnourishment remains a big cause for concern with figures showing that 20% of the children in the country are undernourished at birth because their mothers too are undernourished. Although the government introduced the ICDS scheme in the mid-70s aiming to feed 15 crore children below 6 years of age and 2 crore lactating and pregnant women, and the Midday Meal programme for children apart from Poshan Abhiyan in 2018, the figures remain appalling with 70% children in a rich state like Maharashtra and 80% in equally rich Gujarat being anaemic. Effectively it means 4 out of 5 children are anaemic and it does not augur well for the country in any way. The comparative figures in Manipur are equally appalling with 42.8% children aged 6-59 months being anaemic in the state according to NFHS 2019-20. In 2015-16 the corresponding figure was 23.9%, showing that for all the tall claims about the economy improving and of there being no hunger in Manipur, occurrence of anaemia in small children has almost doubled in the last 5 years.
In non-pregnant women aged 15-49 years anaemia has gone up from 26.4% in 2015-16 to 29.3% in 2019-20, while anaemia in pregnant women in the same age group went up from 26% to an alarming 32.4% during the same period. Anaemia in all women 15-49 years in the state rose from 26.4% to 29.4% during 2015-16 to 2019-20, and in all women aged 15-19 years the figures saw a massive jump from 21.1% to 27.9% during the last 5 years. Interestingly the figures for anaemia in men show a drop from 9.5% to 6% for men aged 15-49 years in the state during the last 5 years, while men 15-19 years saw a further drop in occurrence rate from 9.2% to 7.8% during 2015-16 to 2019-20. This sadly shows that women and girls still do not get respect and value they deserve as equally rightful citizens of Manipur. Considering that women and children are 3/4ths of the population in Manipur it is quite a shame that they are not recognised as a human resource, especially the children who are the future for any development, infrastructure and economic growth in the poor state of Manipur.
The under-5 mortality rate at present in Manipur is a whopping 30% and has increased from 25.9% in 2015-16, whereas the total children in ages 6-23 months who are receiving adequate diet is only 19.6% and has gone up marginally from 18.8% in the last five years. Experts have stated that 50% of all mortality in children is due to malnourishment. The figures are quite depressing and show that in spite of everyone espousing women’s equality in Manipur it is the men in the household who are still getting all the milk, jaggery, ghee and nutrition in comparison to women and children. Women are doing so much household chores that they cannot breastfeed their babies every 3/4 hours as required, and this is compounded by the fact that due to their anaemic and malnutrition condition they cannot produce the breastmilk.
On the Global Hunger Index 2020, India at 27.2% is doing worse than poor sub-Saharan African countries like Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, while in Asia, Thailand, Vietnam and Sri Lanka are doing considerably better than India. The main reason for this is poverty. In India only the better off are doing better as all the government’s programmes are aimed at catering to them. Why has the government not begun with the poor in mind? Hunger, anaemia, malnutrition, underweight children and underweight women is all due to poverty. According to the last government data available 36.89% people in Manipur are under the poverty line, while the national average is 21.9%. Quite obviously then, poverty eradication is essential to improve access to food. The biggest factor here would be social security, including food security. Universal health coverage and universal Public Distribution System, especially for the poor, without making issue of ration cards a political matter, are indispensable to remove poverty, according to experts.
Since all government programmes are lop-sided for the benefit of the corporate sector, it is quite straightforward that the rich should be taxed marginally to raise social security for the poor. The subsidy that goes to the corporate sector is 9 lakh crores, and daily speculative transactions at the stock market, which is not taxed adequately, adds up to 7 lakh crores daily. Experts again say that if you tax even 1% of this amount 8% of the country’s GDP will be generated, if at all the dilemma of raising funds for social security for the poor is to be solved. Surely employment and livelihood, and food security for the poor is imperative and it is everyone’s duty to sit up to the dismal figures looming over Manipur. As responsible citizens we cannot be indifferent to the millions who struggle with hunger and malnutrition every day in this state and the country.