Skip to main content

Hunger, food wastage amidst Indian govt’s 'unplanned' lockdown, maladministration

By Sushant Kumar Singh* 
Today the whole world is grappling with the contagion effect of the disease named Covid-19 and is engaged with full force to fight the crisis. The Covid-19 pandemic has clearly distorted the world economic system. Heterodox economists have been asserting that this pandemic has broken the basic assumption of neo-liberal economics of laissez fair and invisible hand.
To contain this pandemic, so far, no vaccine or drug has been invented by any country, so lockdown is the only alternative being used worldwide to contain the spread of the disease. But the characteristic scenario of the lockdown is not the same in every country.
Till now the pandemic has claimed nearly two lakh deaths world-wide. India has lost 686 lives so far. In India infection and death are increasing at a constant rate. It is also a fact that only the vulnerable section of the society is undergoing the extreme assault of the lockdown crisis and pandemic. Their problems of livelihood have gone more complex and deeper.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimation more than 20 million people may become unemployed world-wide. As for India, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) has reported, already, India's unemployment rate rose to 26.2 per cent in the third week of April amidst coronavirus lockdown. This can pose a major threat to the Indian economy, as 22% of the population is below the poverty line in the country -- a very frightful situation indeed.
The sudden announcement of lockdown on the night of March 24 unfurled an atmosphere of panic among the most vulnerable sections of the society -- migrant labourer, beggars, nomadic tribes, helpless old people, disabled persons and sex workers. More than 90% of this most disadvantaged group of people are from SC, ST, OBC and Muslim communities because of their consistent marginalisation in the Hindu Brahminical society.
Soon after the unplanned lockdown, a large number migrant labourers and other poor people started returning back to their native places by anticipating grim situation of paying rent and dealing with hunger in absence of any earning. 
Meanwhile, the government rules became more stringent, due to which many labourers got trapped in cities. Some were interrupted in the midst of their up to 1,000 km long journey to their villages, and were shifted to quarantine and relief camps.

Hunger

Both Central and state governments claim that they have done all the required arrangements for the stranded migrant labourers so that they do not face problem of accommodation and hunger. But reports narrate a different story. Quarantine and relief camps facilities are not adequately arranged. People are facing problems of washroom, water and toilet. They are not getting proper food.
Community kitchen centres have been set up at several places to cater to food for the stranded migrant workers, destitute, homeless and poor people. But there also sufficient amount of food is not being cooked to make it available to every penurious class.
At several places people are supposed to travel around four km to reach community centres for food. They are made to stand for five to six hours in queue to collect food. They are barely getting food twice a day, and most of the time they are experiencing shortage of food.
Families having five or six members are just managing to collect food for only two or three members. Reason is, in many cases, the entire family members (like older people, women, kids) cannot commute to community kitchen centres. People are complaining that they are not getting food regularly. Some have to starve for one or two days. The food is often not nutritious, especially for children.
Meanwhile, news has begun to surface that people are facing extreme hunger, and some have died due to starvation. A Dalit man died in Jharkhand due to starvation because ration was denied at the PDS centre due to unavailability of ration card. An 11-year-old Dalit boy starved to death due to lockdown in Ara, Mushar Tola, Bihar.
According to one report, the lockdown has led to about 200 deaths, out of which 53 deaths were caused because of hunger, exhaustion or suicide due to lack of livelihood. A recent research based on secondary data has found that till April 11, 181 deaths have occurred due to lockdown distress, out of which 20 deaths were because of hunger and five suicide deaths due to loss of employment, depression and trauma. A daily wager Mukesh committed suicide in Gurugram when he failed to feed his family.
Hunger deaths are not a new phenomenon for India. Let’s have a cursory look on the hunger situation in India, keeping in view that these kinds of figures often go under-reported. According to the UN millennium development goal report, one third of the world’s hungry people live in India. According to the World Bank, India tops the world in the number of malnutrition child.
According the National Health Survey (NHS) 2017, more than 19 crore Indians are undernourished and face hunger. At least 7,000 people die of hunger every day and 25 lakh deaths occur every year due to hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates of 2019 marked that 194.4 million people are undernourished in India which constitutes 19.5% of the total population. About 51% women are anaemic in the age 15-49.
According to a UNICEF report (2018), 3,00,000 children die in India per year, and 4,500 death per day, due to hunger and malnutrition related ailments. The Global Hunger Index Report, 2019, ranked India at 102nd positions. It reported 37.9% children below five year of age are stunted, 33.4% are underweight, around 50% are anaemic, 20.8% suffer wasting, and 3.9% is mortality under five year of age.
On the occasion of the death anniversary of Santoshi, an 11-year-old girl who died in 2017 in Jharkhand due to starvation, academics Reetika Khera and Siraj Dutta noted in their independent research that between 2015 and 2018, India registered 56 hunger deaths due to extreme poverty and on denial of food grain by public distribution system (PDS) and pension.
Considering India’s struggle with the problems of hunger and malnutrition, while announcing lockdown, why didn’t the government think of this problem? Why is it that, in this case, the government has imposed the morality of ‘social welfare maximisation’ on the poorer sections at the cost of their life?
India  requires 21 MT of food grains to address the problem of hunger during lockdown, even then FCI will be left with 37 MT surplus
If poor are to morally abide by the rules of lockdown to secure the safety of the bourgeoisie, why shouldn’t it be the responsibility of the bourgeois class to take care of migrant labourers to enhance the definition of ‘social welfare maximization’ in this period of crisis?

Food wastage

Production of food grains in India in relation to requirement of the entire population has never been low or insufficient in the recent decade. But there has been a debate on the falling per capita consumption after the expedition of neo-liberal regime, economist Prabhat Patnaik had observed in a 2010.
India is one of the largest food producer countries of the world. Despite this, it could not able to cater the food distribution programme effectively to the poor people and eliminate the prolonged problem of hunger due to which millions of people going hungry every day.
According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), India needs 225-230 million tonnes of food per year to feed the entire population sufficiently, and this year (2019-20) India’s farm output has been to the tune of 291.50 million tonnes. According to the Food Corporation of India (FCI) data, currently, India is having 58 million tonnes of food grains stock.
Patnaik estimates, India does not require more than 21 million tonnes of food grains to address the problem of hunger in this lockdown crisis period. Even then FCI will be left with 37 million tonnes of food grains. Moreover, this year, a new batch of food grain stock will be added to the FCI stock. It will be more than enough to cater food security programmes, even as helping address the problem of hunger and ensure food safety against any uncertain food crisis in the future.
  While other countries are willing to spend around 8 to 10 % of GDP to fight hunger and unemployment amidst COVID-19 crisis, India has announced just Rs 1.7 lakhs crore packages which comes around 1% of GDP. This is a complete derision of migrant labourers and other penurious classes.
What is the current situation of food wastage amid lockdown? Reports speak of dumping of milk down the drain in Tripura and in irrigation canal in Karnataka. Farmers are not getting buyers to sell their crops and vegetables amidst lockdown. Vegetables and fruits are rotting after reaping. It has drastically impacted the income of farmers.
There have been reports that farmers in despair are destroying their crops out as there is little hope to sell them in the market. A farmer, Yogesh, said he gave all his fruits for free to those who came to his farm and rest of the fruits were dumped.
A small start-up, Milkbasket, was forced to dump 15,000 litre of milk and 10,000 kg of vegetables and fruits. Ninjacart had to destroy 20,000 kg of vegetables in Chennai. Milk producers in Haridwar have been draining thousands litres of milk daily. According to FAO 40% of the total food produced per year gets waste due to bad storage facilities, improper logistics and other reasons.
Closing down of restaurants, school, colleges and hostels messes have reduced the demand for vegetables and milk. Farmers are not getting enough buyers to even set off half of their crops. Demand by households and majorly restaurants, confectionary units, sweetmeat shops and dairy units have been reduced drastically.
Some online grocery retailers are being allowed to deliver groceries and vegetables to people at their doorsteps. But these kinds of purchasing are more popular among the rich or the upper middle class people, who know how to handle gadgets, online apps and payments. Even retail grocery stores’ demands are not enough to absorb all perishable food items locally produced.
The government could have ordered local governing bodies to procure all the locally produced milk, crops and vegetables and transit these to relief and quarantine camps and other spots where there is need, and distribute these among stranded labourers and their families. It would have helped milk producers and farmers to not bear all the losses and earn at least their cost of production, and also ensure some nutrient food to poverty-stricken children in this period crisis.
However, it seems, the government is unwilling to provide social safety net to marginalised groups. The whole story of government insensitivity, lack of empathy and political will towards the most downtrodden sections of people (who belong to so-called lower castes) also recount a Brahminical mindset of the Indian state as also that of the top bureaucrats.
Even in this situation of extreme health crisis and life-threatening hunger condition, the government is asking for ration card or aadhaar card for identification for free distribution of food to the poor people. Instead, the government should contain the wastage of locally produced food occurring during the lockdown period and utilise surplus grains lying with FCI to make available it to the quarantine and relief camps and to poor households for free.
In 2010, the Supreme Court had asked the government to distribute surplus food grains lying with FCI to the poor even without asking for BPL identity instead of letting it rot in warehouses, and also suggested to take all possible measures to minimize wastage of food grains due to the poor condition of storage infrastructure. The apex court direction is not being complied with.
It is time one should ponder: When we know India is home to one third of the world’s stunted children (“Global Nutrition Report”, 2018), there is reason to ask as to what has the Government of India prearranged for ensuring nutritious food to the children of stranded migrant labours in this period of Covid-19 lockdown crisis?
---
*Assistant professor, Bhupendra Narayan Mandal University, Bihar

Comments

Manu Hegde said…
People who have acquired COVID-19, but experience little to no symptoms will bring in the next wave of infected cases. Hence immunity levels will decide the severity of rise in cases. Positive emotions can enhance immune system, while negative emotions can suppress it. The politics of fear & hatred that divide people over religion, patriotism, caste, gender, wealth & law will help in creating those negative emotions.

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Gyanvapi case: Use of 'illegal' lawfare to keep the communal pot simmering

By Venkatesh Narayanan, Bobby Ramakant, Manoj Sarang* With a steady drumbeat of bad news for the lives of ordinary citizens --  inflation at a multi-year high , rupee at an all-time low , negative job creation and when all forward indicators as seen by industry leaders point to recessionary clouds on the horizon , what’s a serially-incompetent government to do?  Dust out their time-tested-citizen-distraction playbook. The Gyanvapi-Masjid case is all of this -- as a weapon of mass distraction. This zeitgeist of our times is best captured by a recent opinion piece : "The idea is to keep the pot on a perpetual boil, simmering at the top, whirling feverishly beneath. A restless society forever living precariously on the precipice arouses distrst, uneasiness, fear and discomfort, That is a toxic panoply for manufacturing rage, which can then be effortlessly mobilized at short notice. BJP is creating an eco-system of real-time instant delivery of hate-mongers. That is how we are sudde

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Targeting mosques, churches: 'Roadmap' for 2025, RSS' centenary year?

416 years old Our Lady of Health Church, Sancoale, Goa  By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ*  Fascists use manipulative strategies aimed at whipping up sympathy and support from the majority community, to which they normally ‘belong’. They do so in a variety of insidious and subtle ways. In the past few months, they have gone overboard in their efforts to denigrate and demonize minorities in India, particularly Muslims and Christians. They have spewed hate and divisiveness through their venomous speeches; incited people to violence and have effectively used officialdom to further their vested interests. The results are there for all to see: greater polarisation of the majority community in a country which prided itself for its pluralism and diversity. Their meticulously planned agenda is in order to gain absolute power of the country in the 2024 national elections. More so it is also a roadmap towards 2025 when the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) will complete one hundred years of its existence.

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

UK leader cites Indian farmers' struggle one of top global fights against neoliberal order

Counterview Desk  Jeremy Corbyn, member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party and founder of the  Peace and Justice Project , in his  inaugural speech to the  Progressive International’s  Summit at the End of the World on May 12, 2022, has said, what is happening across globe suggests that "image of apocalypse -- bombs and raids, oil spills and wildfires, disease and contagion -- is a reality for people across the planet." In an adaptation of his speech, distributed by  Globetrotter , Corbyn, however, said, there are fresh examples action, too -- by Indian farmers forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three neo-liberal laws;  by workers, communities and activists against the top giant multinational Amazon's "greed and exploitation"; and by Latin American people's struggle to say "no more to the domination by imperialism, the destruction of their communities and the abuse of their environments." Stating that this is n

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

This varsity succumbed to extra-academic mobocracy, 'ignored' Hindutva archives

By Shamsul Islam* Open letter to Sharda University vice-chancellor Sub: Discarding a Question on Linkages of Hindutva with Nazism/Fascism is blatant Academic Dishonesty! Dear Professor Sibaram Khara Saheb, Namaskaar! According to your esteemed University’s portal: “The name of University, 'Sharda' is synonymous to 'Goddess of knowledge and learning-Saraswati'. She is identified with 'veena', an Indian musical instrument and the ‘lotus’, where she resides. The lotus in our logo symbolizes the seat of learning that the University is created for.  "Variety of colours signify the variety of disciplines the university offers and the overlap between petals creating new colours demonstrate the ethos of collaboration between students and teachers of different programme, nationality, creed and colour working towards creating new knowledge…the University's cherished mission to provide education beyond boundaries and to facilitate the students and faculty to achie

Welfare? Govt of India spends just 19% of manual scavengers' rehabilitation budget

By Bharat Dogra*  While the Dalit community has been always known for higher levels of poverty as well as social discrimination, even within the Dalits there is a sub-section known for even worse levels of poverty as well as social discrimination. This is the section which was traditionally involved in manual scavenging. The shocking injustice they have suffered from over the years has been widely recognized leading to a ban on manual scavenging. At the same time there is urgent need for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging. Hence a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging was drawn up. The allocations and the expenditure for this scheme for the last eight years are shown in the Table below: Union Budget for Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of  Manual Scavengers (in Rs crore) By Budget Estimate we mean the original allocation made when the budget is presented. It is clear from this table that the actual expenditure

A former Modi ally, Prashant Kishor wanted to enter Congress 'on contract, as trader'

By Anand Sahay*  The Congress Party and the election campaigns specialist Prashant Kishor, whose company has done strategic communications for a host of political parties across ideology, should both count themselves lucky that they could not reach an agreement for Kishor to join the party. News reports suggest that the Congress rejected Kishor’s terms. This is not wholly unexpected. People join a party because they are attracted to it, and wish to serve it in any capacity that the party may see fit. But that isn’t Kishor at all. He gave the impression of entering into a contract, as a trader might. If news reports are to be believed, he sought freedom to report directly to party chief Sonia Gandhi, and sought untrammeled control over party communications. When such ideas did not find favour, the consultant withdrew. It is clear he has no particular love for the Congress, and its ideas, ideology and politics. In contrast, look at the key personae in G-23. They