Study points towards hunger and destitution amidst hope for a V-shaped economic recovery
Please click here for more information about the Hunger Watch survey.
The results of the Hunger Watch study come at a time when some sections of the media are rejoicing over the fall in GDP contraction in second quarter of the current fiscal year (i.e. -7.5 percent) vis-à-vis the first one (i.e. -23.9 percent).
Preliminary results of the study entitled Hunger Watch indicate that the unlockdown process, which began in June (in phases) this year has not helped to improve the income levels of the vulnerable households/ communities in rural and urban areas, and the food security situation of the poor and the marginalised in terms of consumption of food (rice, wheat, pulses) continues to remain pitiable in comparison to the pre-lockdown levels. On account of income insecurity, the poor and the marginalised people borrowed money for purchasing food and even skipped meals as a coping up strategy during September-October this year.
As compared to the pre-lockdown period, a large number of vulnerable households reported lower levels of income (62 percent), reduced intake of cereals (53 percent), pulses (64 percent), vegetables (73 percent) and eggs/ non-vegetarian items (71 percent), and an increased need to borrow money for purchasing food (45 percent) during September-October.
Please note that the nationwide lockdown imposed in the country between 25th March and 30th May this year (in four phases), not only adversely impacted the livelihood security of the labouring classes but also their access to essential goods and services, including food and healthcare.
For the face-to-face Hunger Watch survey, vulnerable communities in rural and urban areas were identified by local activists/ researchers (associated with the above-mentioned groups) who then shortlisted the households to be surveyed within these communities based on group discussions with the community.
The press statement by the Right to Food Campaign cautions the readers that the data presented may not be representative of the district, state or country. However, they tell a story of deprivation of thousands of households in similar situations. The figures provided by the Right to Campaign in its press statement and note are not weighted by the sample size or population of the states but are simple averages.
The key findings (preliminary) of the Hunger Watch study are as follows:
• About 3,994 respondents from 11 states -- Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Nearly 2,186 respondents in rural areas and 1,808 respondents in urban areas were interviewed.
• Almost 79 percent of the respondents had income less than Rs. 7,000/- per month before the lockdown. Around 41 percent of them earned less than Rs. 3,000/- per month before the lockdown.
• Roughly 59 percent of the respondents were SCs/STs, 23 percent were OBCs and about 4 percent were PVTG (Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups). About 64 percent identified themselves as Hindus while 20 percent were Muslims.
• Around 55 percent of the respondents were women.
• Nearly 48 percent were slum dwellers, 14 percent were single women headed households and 7 percent of the respondents had households with a member who was disabled.
• About 45 percent were daily wage labourers and 18 percent were farmers.
Compared to pre-lockdown incomes in September/ October still remain affected
• Around 43 percent of respondents had no income in April-May. Out of these people, only about 3 percent have gone back to income levels of what it was before lockdown while 56 percent of them continue to have no income in the last 30 days (prior to the survey).
• Roughly 62 percent of the respondents said that their income reduced in September-October compared to pre-lockdown .
• For about one-in-four respondents, the income in the last 30 days (prior to the survey) is half of what it was during pre-lockdown.
• In short, what we see is that for a large majority of people, there is no change in their economic status from what it was in April-May.
Consumption of cereals, pulses and vegetables “decreased a lot” in September/ October compared to pre-lockdown
• About 53 percent reported that their consumption of rice/ wheat has decreased in September-October this year and for about one in four it has “decreased a lot.”
• Almost 64 percent reported that their consumption of dal has decreased in September-October of which about 28 percent reported that it has “decreased a lot.”
• Nearly 73 percent reported that their consumption of green vegetables has decreased in September-October and for about 38 percent it has “decreased a lot.”
Reduction in consumption of eggs/ non-vegetarian items is staggering
• About 17 percent of the survey respondents said that they consumed eggs/ non-vegetarian items ‘often’ before the lockdown. Among them, 91 percent said that their eggs/ meat consumption has decreased in September-October and a staggering 58 percent said that it has “decreased a lot.”
• Almost 46 percent of the respondents said that they consumed eggs/ meat ‘sometimes’ before the lockdown and among them, 76 percent reported that their egg/ meat consumption has decreased.
Large proportion of respondents skip meals and go to bed hungry
• About 56 percent of the respondents never had to skip meals before lockdown. Of them, one-in-seven had to either skip meals ‘often’, ‘sometimes’ in the last 30 days (prior to the survey) of the Hunger Watch survey.
• In September-October, about 27 percent respondents sometimes went to bed without eating. About one-in-twenty households often went to bed without eating.
Overall decline in nutritional quality and quantity, even the relatively better off affected badly
• About 71 percent respondents reported that the nutritional quality of food has worsened in September-October from what it was before lockdown, of which about 40 percent said it has become “much worse.” While lower income groups were affected more, 62 percent of those who earned more than Rs. 15,000/- per month before lockdown reported that their nutritional quality worsened in September-October compared to the pre-lockdown period.
• Two-thirds reported that the quantity of food has either decreased somewhat or decreased a lot now compared to the pre-lockdown period. About 28 percent reported that nutritional quality and quantity decreased a lot.
Need to borrow money for purchasing food has increased for all
• For about 45 percent respondents, the need to borrow money for food has increased from pre-lockdown periods. Even among those in the highest income bracket (>Rs 15,000 per month pre-lockdown), about 42 percent reported that their need to borrow money has increased. This again points to the fact that the need to borrow money for food was high regardless of the income levels of the household. Moreover, the need to borrow money among SCs was 23 percentage points more than those in the ‘General’ category.
• While one-in-four SCs and Muslims report they faced discrimination in accessing food since lockdown, about 12 percent of STs faced discrimination. This was one-in-ten among those in the ‘General’ category.
• About 77 percent of the PVTG families reported to have reduced the quantity of food consumption in September-October compared to before lockdown. Quantity of food consumption decreased for about 74 percent of the SCs and for about 36 percent it ‘decreased a lot’. About 54 percent of the STs reported that their quantity of food consumption decreased. About 7 percent reported that their quantity of food consumption increased in the last 30 days (prior to the survey). About 69 percent of the OBCs said that their consumption either decreased somewhat or decreased a lot and just 3 percent said that their quantity of food consumption increased in September-October. For about 68 percent of those in the general category, the quantity either ‘decreased somewhat’ or ‘decreased a lot’ and only about 3 percent reported that their consumption increased.
Access to Entitlements
• Nearly 70 percent have some kind of ration cards that gives them subsidised grains (priority, AAY, state ration cards, etc., including 2 percent who had temporary cards/ coupons)
• About 86 percent of those who had any ration card that is eligible for subsidised grains, said they received their usual entitlement of foodgrains from April to August.
• Around 88 percent of those who had NFSA ration cards (1,715 households) said that they did receive the free grains that were given under PMGKAY from April to August.
• Almost 57 percent households with school going children (2,531 households) said their children received mid-day meals or alternative (dry rations/ cash) in September-October.
• Roughly 48 percent households with young children/pregnant lactating women (2,125 households) said they received supplementary or alternative (dry rations/ cash) from anganwadis i.e. ICDS centres in the last 30 days (prior to the survey).
The following recommendations have been made by the researchers associated with the Hunger Watch study:
• A universal public distribution system that provides every individual with 10 kg grain, 1.5 kg pulses and 800 gm cooking oil for at least the next six months (up to June 2021).
• Nutritious hot cooked meals, including eggs, through anganwadi centres and school midday meals to be distributed while following all safety guidelines related to physical distancing, sanitisation, etc.
• Revival of all services of Integrated Child Development Services scheme (ICDS), including growth monitoring, additional supplementary nutrition for severely malnourished and nutrition counselling.
• Maternity entitlements under the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana without any restrictions on number of births or conditionalities to be met.
• Enhanced social security pensions of at least Rs. 2,000/- per month for old people, single women and disabled persons.
• Repeal of the newly enacted Farm legislations and steps to guarantee MSPs not just for rice and wheat but also pulses, oilseeds and millets.
• Strengthening of the FCI and setting up systems for decentralised procurement of a wide variety of food crops while linking these to food distribution schemes such as PDS, mid-day meals and ICDS.
• Expand NREGA to 200 days of employment per household at minimum wages and timely payment
• Initiate urban employment guarantee programmes
Please click here to watch the entire Press Conference on the Facebook page of the Right to Food Campaign.
Press Note on Estimates of GDP for the Q2 (July-September) 2020-2021, released on 27th November, 2020, National Statistical Office (NSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), please click here to access
Press statement on Hunger Watch study by the Right to Food Campaign dated 9th December, 2020, please click here to access
Note on Hunger Watch study by the Right to Food Campaign dated 9th December, 2020, please click here to access
PowerPoint Presentation on Hunger Watch study by the Right to Food Campaign dated 9th December, 2020, please click here to access
Hunger, nutrition are worse than before lockdown. PDS must be universalised -Dipa Sinha and Rajendran Narayanan, The Indian Express, 23 November, 2020, please click here to read more
Image Courtesy: Inclusive Media for Change/ Shambhu Ghatak