India’s poverty amid plenty

See also – Indian Children have a Right to Adequate Food Nutrition

EDITORIAL: India’s poverty amid plenty

10 August 2010 | Khaleei Times

The New York Times has carried a rather interesting report by its correspondent on the widening chasm between its rich and poor, with particular focus on the government’s poverty alleviation measures.

While a lot has been rightly said and written about India’s phenomenal march to economic superstardom, there is little focus on the faceless, impoverished multitudes in large states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and others.

Despite the recent news stories highlighting the growth in India's economy, and the new wealth this is creating, the need to help India's children is becoming even more important. Child labour is a massive problem in India.

Recently, an Oxford poverty index shocked the world by suggesting that India’s eight states are home to more poor people – a staggering 421 million – than poorest of the poor sub-Saharan African states. The country’s poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with roughly 42 per cent of all children under the age of 5 being underweight.It is against this backdrop that India’s governing Congress and its Italian born chairperson, Sonia Gandhi, is seriously considering if food should be made a right for the country’s poverty-stricken masses.

While the methods of the survey might be open to debate, the actual state of the poor in the world’s second fastest growing economy (after China) is not much different.

The government is said to be toying with the idea of directly providing food coupons, or better still hand out cash, to the needy.

For over half a century, India has had a public distribution system in place, providing subsidised rice, wheat, oil and other essentials. It used its fabled Green Revolution to fight food shortages and poverty in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But the system is now finding it difficult to cope with the population explosion of recent years. Its warehouses are still full of food grains but they can’t be reached to the needy. The distribution system is riddled with corruption, red tape and inefficiency. Most of the $12 billion budget is either wasted or squandered.

This is why the proposal to use more aggressive measures to fight poverty and hunger by directly delivering the aid to the needy deserves to be welcomed. Initially, according to the NYT report, the scheme will be introduced only in the country’s 200 poorest districts, providing every family with a monthly 77-pound bag of grain, sugar and kerosene etc.

Although the whole thing is still in a nascent stage and the governing Congress might have hit on the tried and tested idea with an eye on the next elections that could see Sonia’s prodigal son Rahul Gandhi take over from Manmohan Singh, it is still a million dollar proposal. Food coupons are nothing new. They have long been in existence in Western and socialist countries. Cash help could also make a difference. But they might also open a new channel for corruption as well. Whatever be the case, India’s poor urgently deserve a break.

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