Hunger, nutrition are worse than before lockdown. PDS must be universalised -Dipa Sinha and Rajendran Narayanan

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published Published on Nov 23, 2020   modified Modified on Nov 23, 2020

-The Indian Express

All indications show that an economic revival will take some time — support is required during this period to at least prevent starvation.

The effects of the lockdown and the resultant economic crisis continue to disproportionately impact the poor and informal sector workers. Since the lockdown, the Government of India (GoI) has announced relief packages under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana (PMGKY) and Atmanirbhar Bharat. However, numerous studies have shown their inadequacy. The Economist referred to India’s lockdown as the “stingiest”.

What is more worrying is that even the few measures such as free grains to those having ration cards as per the National Food Security Act (NFSA) are coming to an end this month. While there have been reports hinting at continuing the provision of free grains, it is yet to be announced. In this context, the Right to Food campaign in partnership with several civil society organisations initiated “Hunger Watch”, a rapid survey across 11 states (~3,500 households) from mid-September to mid-October. The objective was to assess the situation of hunger among vulnerable groups, as well as to take immediate local action to support those in extreme need. To this end, we focussed on the conditions among marginalised communities such as Dalit/Adivasi households, daily-wage workers, households with single women, aged or disabled and so on. The survey was conducted through physical visits to the households by local researcher activists and 41 per cent of our sample reported having a monthly income of less than Rs 3,000 pre-lockdown compared to only 2.4 per cent more than Rs 15,000. One-third of them were daily wage workers.

Although there is an improvement in the current situation compared to what it was during the peak of the lockdown in April-May, it is still much worse than it was before the lockdown in February-March. Widespread hunger continues even now. This was seen across the board, irrespective of the income levels.

Not only did these households start off very poor, but they also face precarious conditions with 27 per cent saying that they had no income in the month before the survey (compared to 43 per cent with no income during April-May). Out of those who didn’t have any income in April-May, 87 per cent continue to have no income. One in three respondents reported members having to skip meals “sometimes” or “often”. To cope with reduced income and food insecurity, people have reduced their food consumption and compromised on food quality. More than half the respondents said their current consumption of rice/wheat was less than what it was pre-lockdown. The situation was even worse in the case of dal; almost two-thirds say their consumption of pulses reduced. Based on the 2011 National Sample Survey, a recent paper by Raghunathan, Headey, and Herforth, published in the Food Policy showed that between 63 and 76 per cent of rural Indians could not afford nutritious diets. Further, based on leaked consumption expenditure survey from 2017-18, S Subramanian, showed that consumption declined uniformly across the entire cross-section of rural India. Taken together, these studies suggest that affordability of nutritious diets might have worsened before the lockdown and got further exacerbated since. Indeed, the statistics from our survey comparing the food situation before lockdown and in October indicate about 71 per cent of our respondents reported that the nutritional quality of food worsened. Two-thirds of households reported that the quantity of food consumption either decreased somewhat or decreased a lot and 73 per cent reported that their consumption of green vegetables decreased.

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The Indian Express, 23 November, 2020,

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