Indian Children have a Right to Adequate Food Nutrition

A sweeping political proposal has divided the Indian Congress Party. Its president, Sonia Gandhi, is pushing for a constitutional “right to food” and to enlarge the present entitlement to provide every Indian family with a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene –

From The New York Times – By JIM YARDLEY – 8/08/2010: JHABUA, India — Inside the drab district hospital, where dogs patter down the corridors, sniffing for food, Ratan Bhuria’s children are curled together in the malnutrition ward, hovering at the edge of starvation. His daughter, Nani, is 4 and weighs 20 pounds. His son, Jogdiya, is 2 and weighs only eight.

Meera Damore sits with her severely malnourished son, Pappu, in the Jhabua District government hospital in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh - Photo credit: Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Landless and illiterate, drowned by debt, Mr. Bhuria and his ailing children have staggered into the hospital ward after falling through India’s social safety net. They should receive subsidized government food and cooking fuel. They do not. The older children should be enrolled in school and receiving a free daily lunch. They are not. And they are hardly alone: India’s eight poorest states have more people in poverty — an estimated 421 million — than Africa’s 26 poorest nations, one study recently reported.

Many left-leaning social organizors believe that making a food a legal right will provide people a tool to demand benefits that rightfully belong to them. Many Indian economists and market advocates concur that India’s poor need to receive their legal benefits but but that existing delivery protocals need to be replaced, not expanded; they insist that handing out vouchers equivalent to the bag of grain would liberate the poor from an inefficient government system and allow them to purchase what they please, where they please –

The New York Times continues

For the governing Indian National Congress Party, which has staked its political fortunes on appealing to the poor, this persistent inability to make government work for people like Mr. Bhuria has set off an ideological debate over a question that once would have been unthinkable in India: Should the country begin to unshackle the poor from the inefficient, decades-old government food distribution system and try something radical, like simply giving out food coupons, or cash?

The rethinking is being prodded by a potentially sweeping proposal that has divided the Congress Party. Its president, Sonia Gandhi, is pushing to create a constitutional right to food and expand the existing entitlement so that every Indian family would qualify for a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene.  Such entitlements have helped the Congress Party win votes, especially in rural areas.

India’s ability, or inability, in coming decades to improve the lives of the poor will very likely determine if it becomes a global economic power, and a regional rival to China, or if it continues to be compared with Africa in poverty surveys.

India vanquished food shortages during the 1960s with the Green Revolution, which introduced high-yield grains and fertilizers and expanded irrigation, and the country has had one of the world’s fastest-growing economies during the past decade. But its poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with roughly 42 percent of all Indian children under the age of 5 being underweight.

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