Indian food policy failing, millions stay hungry – UN

NEW DELHI, (Reuters) – A flagship government food  subsidy scheme is failing and millions in India remain hungry  despite years of economic boom, a U.N. report showed on Friday.

The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), meant to  sell food essentials to India’s poorest people at subsidised  prices, has excluded large numbers because of poor data and lack  of adequate definitions of hunger, the report said.

About 20 percent of the world’s 1 billion hungry poor live  in India. Though numbers fell until 2003, the report said since  then “the number of undernourished in India reportedly (is)  increasing substantially”.

India ranks 94th in the Global Hunger Index of 119  countries, the report said, adding nearly half of Indian  children are underweight.

Food subsidies were almost universally available until 1997,  the report said, but criticisms of their inefficiency led to a  policy change.

In theory, cut price food essentials would be sold only to  those who really needed help, but in practice the TPDS excluded  large numbers of people and reclassified others as better off  than they actually were.

“Apart from failing to serve the intended goal of reduction  of food subsidies, the TPDS also led to greater food insecurity  for large sections of the poor and the near-poor,” the report,  written by the U.N. World Food Programme and a think-tank, said.

“These targeting errors arise … due to imperfect  information, inexact measurement of household characteristics,  corruption and inefficiency.”

The report cited one survey which said an estimated 18  percent of households below the poverty line did not have ration  cards needed to claim benefits.

The document questioned the government’s definitions of  hunger and poverty.
“The fact that calorie deprivation is increasing during a  period when the proportion of the rural population below the  poverty line … is claimed to be declining rapidly, highlights  the increasing disconnect between official poverty estimates and  calorie deprivation,” it said.

The report also blamed a fall in foodgrain production,  higher unemployment and a decrease of the poor’s purchasing  power for India’s high malnutrition levels at a time when the  economy has grown at about 9 percent in recent years.

Food insecurity in rural areas has dropped in several  states, but has risen in others, the report said, using a range  of indices such as calorie intake, energy deficiency and  anaemia.

Large sums of government subsidies are lost because of  rampant corruption at local level, said a lawmaker from one of  India’s poorest states, Jharkhand, who spoke at the report’s  launch in New Delhi.
“In Jharkhand hardly 20 percent of people get rations,”  Mabel Rebello said.

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