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Hunger Watch: 62% of households report incomes lower than pre-lockdown period

By Our Representative

A study carried out by the Right to Food Campaign and the Center for Equity Studies in 11 states has found that even five months after the lockdown has ended, a large number of households report lower levels of income (62%), reduced intake of cereals (53%), pulses (64%), vegetables (73%) and eggs/non-vegetarian items (71%), worsened nutritional quality (71%) and an increased need to borrow money to buy food (45%).
Based on interviews with 3,994 respondents from 11 states (Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal), 2,186 in rural areas and 1,808 in urban areas, the study said, the government support in the form of free rations, and alternatives to school and anganwadi meals in the form of dry rations and/or cash transfers reached more than half the people, which was “crucial”.
However, it regretted, the staggering levels of hunger witnessed during the study – titled Hunger Watch – showed the inadequacy of these schemes. It said, many were left out, and even among those who did get the entitlements, the overall consumption was still lower than what it was before the lockdown.
Of those interviewed, 79% had income less than Rs 7,000 per month and 41% earned less than Rs 3,000 per month before the lockdown. About 59% of the respondents were Dalits/Adivasis, 23% were OBC , 4% were particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs), 64% identified themselves as Hindus, while 20% said they were Muslims.
Then, 55% of the respondents were women, 48% were slum dwellers, 14% were single women headed households and 7% of the respondents had households with a member who was disabled, 45% were daily wage labourers and 18% were farmers.
The study found, 43% of the respondents had no income in April-May. Of these, only about 3% went back to income levels of what it was before the lockdown, while 56% of them continued to have no income in the last 30 days of the study period (September-October). Also, roughly, 62% respondents’ income reduced in September-October compared to the pre-lockdown period, and for about one in four, the income in the last 30 days was half of what it was during the pre-lockdown period. 
While 17% of the respondents consumed eggs/non-veg before the lockdown, among them, 91% said their eggs/meat consumption decreased in September-October
The study found in September-October, 53% reported that their consumption of rice/wheat had decreased, 64% reported their consumption of dal had decreased, and 73% reported that their consumption of green vegetables had decreased. Then, while 17% of the respondents consumed eggs/non-veg ‘often’ before the lockdown, among them, 91% said that their eggs/meat consumption decreased in September-October.
The study said, 56% of the respondents never had to skip meals before the lockdown, but, of them, one in seven had to either skip meals ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ in the last 30 days, in September-October about 27% respondents sometimes went to bed without eating, and one in 20 households often went to bed without eating.
Pointing towards overall decline in nutritional quality and quantity, the study found, 71% reported that the nutritional quality of food worsened in September-October from what it was before the lockdown. While lower income groups were affected more, 62% of those who earned more than Rs 15,000 per month before lockdown also reported that their nutritional quality worsened in September-October compared to before the lockdown.
The study further found that for 45% of the respondents, the need to borrow money for food increased from the pre-lockdown period. The need to borrow money among Dalits was 23 percentage points more than those in the ‘general’ category, it added.
The study found, one in four Dalits and Muslims report they faced discrimination in accessing food since lockdown, about 12% of Adivasis faced discrimination. This was one in ten among those in the ‘General’ category.
As for quantity of food, among PVTG families, 77% reported reduction in the quantity of food consumption in September-October compared to before lockdown, 54% of the Adivasis reported that their quantity of food consumption decreased, and 69% of OBCs said that their consumption had decreased.
Coming to observations from individual states, the study said, while in Gujarat, the issue of cancellation of ration cards and irregular supply of grains under the Mid Day Meal Scheme was observed, in Maharashtra the nutrition intake suffered and the condition of the urban poor became a matter of concern, as in many cases domestic workers reported that they did receive wages since the lockdown.
In Jharkhand, the study found, there were starvation deaths due to the worsening economic condition and inability to afford even basic foodgrains, noting, the High Court had to take suo motu cognisance of the issue after it was reported that three members of a family from Bokaro district succumbed to hunger and starvation in a span of six months. 
Then, the study said, in Uttar Pradesh, the condition of vulnerable communities like Musahari became precarious. The community collecting chicken feathers for consumption in order to survive. In West Bengal, there were problems faced by people in obtaining ration cards. In Chhattisgarh, the return of migrant labourers resulted in exacerbation of the situation of hunger as the labourers were not enrolled under food security schemes in their home state or where they worked.
In the national capital Delhi, the study said, the poor and marginalised living on rent in slum settlements and the homeless suffered more as they were not covered under the PDS due to not possessing necessary documents like address proof, electricity bill required to apply for a ration card. Only 37% of the population in Delhi got grains under PDS.

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