While double digit hike in food prices over the last one year has become one of the most debated and discussed issue in most middle – class households the worst affected from this phenomenon are the poor people living below the poverty lines. Though the Indian Media declared it as one of the biggest challenges to the central government and it made headlines quite few times but they failed to recognize that how seriously it affects the poor masses and their health conditions (nutrition levels)with our present dwindling Public Distribution System (PDS). As Development Economist and one of the policy-makers of the NREGA Jean Dreze puts it “The most startling aspect of the nutrition situation in India is that it is not much of an issue in public debates and electoral politics”.
In words of Nobel laureate Amartya Sen “When India achieved independence, more than 50 years ago, the people of the country were much afflicted by endemic hunger. They still are”. As hunger remains one of the leading causes for deaths in the world.1/3 of hungry lives in India.And with these sky-rocketing prices of food materials and our public distribution system failing to cater to the masses, the problem of hunger and nutrition in the country has worsened and intensified especially in the countryside over the years. According to UNICEF India, nearly 3000 children die everyday from hunger and malnourishment. There is a sense of urgency to intervene in this regard as this affects millions of people in the entire nation.
The recent reports which appeared in a national daily Hindustan Times, of children eating mud to ward-off their hunger in the state of Uttar Pradesh were startling and exposed the realities of our inefficient and corruption-ridden social security schemes which most of the times do not reach the people who need them the most. The present public distribution systems have completely failed to reach the poor as India is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry – about 230 million people – according to a World Food Programme report released on March 2009 and has created a catastrophic picture in the rural areas.
We as a nation urgently need the right to food or the food security bill as this problem does not only affect a few villages or districts but it is the story whole of the rural belt of the country. As hunger stares in our face we urgently require the food security bill as all our efforts till now to strengthen the PDS have been in vain. Congress party in their election manifesto (2009) promised to bring such an act which would provide 25 kg of food grains namely rice and wheat at Rs.3 per kg to all below poverty line families. But the UPA-II has completed its one year in office and still we find no such proposal to introduce the bill in the parliament or a time-frame within which such a bill would be introduced. With the formation of National Advisory Council – 2 hopes for this act are again revived. We should draft a bill as soon as possible to tackle this menace otherwise we would be left with a generation which would be malnourished and vulnerable to all kinds of diseases, unable to contribute in nation-building.