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Let Us Aim At Making 600,000 Villages Hunger-Free

By Devinder Sharma

26 March, 2010
Ground Reality

A reader wrote to me in response to my posting yesterday on the Supreme Court's panel on hunger. He drew my attention to my own article published some five years ago. The article "The Business of Hunger" originally appeared in Mainstreaming ICT a bi-monthly produced by One World South Asia, in 2005. In five years since that article appeared roots of hunger have gone much deeper and wide.

Hunger multiplied at a time when we had the bogus Public Distribution System operative, made more efficient by the addition of the prefix 'targetted', and we also had the office of Food Commissioner (set up in response to a petition in Supreme Court) monitoring the food distribution supplies. Hunger and malnutrition grew at a time when we had more anganwadis set up, and more schools being provided with mid-day meals. I am not saying that all these interventions were useless, but certainly these have not been able to provide even a semblance of relief from the clutches of hunger.

In 2009, IFPRI ranked India 66th in Global Hunger Index for 88 countries.

I wonder how long can we go on with the same approach to feed the poor. Why don't we come up with approaches that can provide people with capacity to fight hunger? Isn't it strange that foodgrains are produced in the villages, and it is in these villages that we find the worst kind of hunger. Why can't we aim at making our villages hunger-free? After all, we have over 600,000 villages, and if each and every village could take care of its hunger, much of the problem would be resolved.

Am I wrong? If not, isn't there something terribly wrong at the way we look at hunger?

Why should there by hunger in villages which produce bountiful foodgrains, year after year?

The renewed debate following the recent report submitted by former Justice D P Wadhwa is unfortunately on the same off-beaten track. Let us assume that Mrs Sonia Gandhi raises the food allocation from the proposed 25 kgs to 35 kgs (as the Supreme Court has been demanding) and if she agrees to make some more amendments as demanded by a section of the Right to Food (RTF) campaign, will it remove hunger?

The answer is a big No.

With all my apologies, even the Right to Food campaign has failed to see beyond the entitlements, and in my opinion its approach is no different from what the bureaucracy in the Ministry of Food has been recommending. Unless we remove the structural causes that acerbate hunger, and most of these relate to agriculture and management of natural resources, India would not be able to make any significant difference in reducing hunger.

The other day in Raipur an activist told me how effective the PDS has been in Chhatisgarh. "Fine", I said. "If this is true, tell me why more and more people are picking up guns in the tribal regions of Chhatisgarh (where the Government has now launched an attack to flush them out under the infamous Operation Green Hunt)."

"Oh ! That is because the corporates have taken over the natural resources of the people, and driven these people out from their lands", he replied.

"And you surely want these hungry and marginalised to be served with monthly ration from the PDS..." I paused.

"Why don't you also demand that the government policy should be to keep these people on their lands? Wouldn't there be less hunger then? How can you fight hunger by first depriving people of their own control over their resources?" I asked.

The gentleman only smiled.

What I am trying to bring out is that hunger needs more than PDS ration, and that is where we are failing to focus on. It is not as if we do not know this, but saying this loudly would deprive you of a slot in some of the high-level committees. In recent times I have seen that much of the passion and compassion that some people exhibit on hunger and poverty is directly related to the committee (or the job) they are aiming for. Please don't get me wrong. I don't mean all, but a few certainly play politics and you also know it.

It is therefore not surprising that those who talk of hunger do not talk of the destruction of agriculture being wrought by World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). Those who shed tears for the hungry fail to see the relationship it has with the neoliberal economic policies. You never hear them telling how detrimental the promotion of GM crops, precision farming, contact farming, food retail and future trading will be in compounding the crisis. They never talk of farm suicides, and its relation to hunger. They never talk of micro-finance and how it adds on to hunger. And so on...

If you leave hunger to some who are in forefront of the debate, making hunger history is not going to be so easy. It is time you realised you too can make a difference. Come on, wake up.

Anyway, I draw your attention to my article The Business of Hunger published five years ago, Please go through it, and let me have your comments. Here is the link:



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