IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

No great escape: On India’s low rank on nutritional indices

19th October, 2020 Editorial

Context: India’s low global rank in tackling nutritional deficits calls for a revamped PDS

  • India’s poor progress on nutritional indices dispel the strong economic growth for years, and turn national focus on persisting hunger, wasting and stunting among children.

India’s poor growth story

  • This year’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) places India in the company of Sudan — rank 94 among 107 countries — with the unedifying assessment of the national situation as “serious”.
  • The country’s score of 27.2 is the worst among BRICS countries, and inferior to Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Global Hunger Index

  • The GHI is developed around wasting and stunting (under five), the share of the population with insufficient caloric intake, and child mortality.
  • Index scores by international agencies have been critiqued as flawed for choosing the wrong weights in scoring, and also for not including genetics and social determinants, but that would be a narrow view.

National Family Health Survey (NFHS) findings

  • The evidence from the NFHS-4 of 2015-16 is not very different.
  • The reality is that national policy has no appetite for a radical transformation in the delivery of adequate nutrition especially to women and children, and has paid inadequate attention to achieving diet diversity through the PDS.
  • The country is widely seen as falsely equating energy calories with a diverse diet.
  • The existing deprivation has been aggravated by the pandemic, with food inflation putting pressure on depleted incomes or meagre pensions and savings.
  • The NFHS-4 found that under-five stunting from chronic undernourishment stood at 38%, and wasting, a result of acute lack of nutrition, at 21%. These data represent some progress, at a drop of about 10 percentage points in both categories compared to a decade earlier, although steady economic prosperity should have yielded a far bigger social dividend.
  • The latest GHI measure is a reminder to bring the true benefits of the National Food Security Act to the unreached, through a diverse diet that includes fat, protein and micronutrients.
  • But the fraud within the PDS, would deprive the disabled and the elderly of even cereals, by insisting on biometric verification to get supplies.
  • Strengthening the PDS, with a focus on women’s health, would lead to healthier pregnancies, and stronger supplemental nutrition under the ICDS scheme would give children a better chance at all-round development.
  • The importance of sustained, immediate intervention is further underscored by recent findings of International Food Policy Research Institute scholars that three out of four rural Indians cannot afford a balanced, nutritious diet.
  • The right to food would be meaningless if it leaves a large section of Indians hungry, stunted and wasted.