In a vast country with over 1.25 billion population, India has not been able to eliminate the hunger of over 350 million people in the poorest strata of the society. According to the 2013 report of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, with its regional office in New Delhi, India ranked a dismal 63rd out of 78 countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), alongside many African and sub-saharan nations. This is a bad reflection on the policies of the government and shameful for a nation with vast financial resources. The much touted economic growth did not seem to percolate to the poorest citizens whose living condition, hunger, health did not improve significantly over the years, which made the IFPRI describe India’s performance on hunger reduction as “lacklustre”. Obviously, the rich and middle classes reaped the benefits of the economic growth, while it was status quo for millions of poor people.
There are no financial constraints, as the country is rich enough with as many as 1,55,000 millionaires and over 55 billionaires to tackle the problem, if at all; the political will is strong enough. India is a signatory to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, under which the nations are expected to halve the level of poverty/hunger by 2015, but at the present slow pace and apparent insensitivity, it may take several years to achieve the goal. Although the then prime minister painfully admitted that “it was national shame” to harbour 45% malnourished children, 70% of anaemic children, and over 55% women with anaemia, the seriousness with focused attention is not visible. With high inequality in the population—the rich becoming richer and richest and the poor pushed down to the superlative level—there is scepticism whether the government is serious about making India hunger-free at least in the next 10 to 15 years. The hope seems to lie with the next generation to take up the cause of the poorest Indians, as the elders failed miserably, a stark reality that has to be accepted.
“Hungeronomics”: This author used the terminology for the first time and published details in three articles—“Food production and hungeronomics” (Agriculture Today, 12(1):36-37, 2009), “Cricketonomics and hungeronomics” (Business Economics, 14(24):44-45, 2009) and “Swiss bank money can combat hunger” (Business Economics, 15(21):16-17, 2010). In simple terms, hungeronomics refers to the investment required to feed a chronically hungry person per day with two meals and the author made calculations and computed the values in terms of money required to provide food to millions of hungry Indians across the country. Through extrapolation it was possible to project the funds required to address the problems of chronically hungry people. At a subsidised rate of `20 per person per day for two meals, an investment of `7,300 will be required per annum. For one lakh hungry people it works out to `73 crore. By multiplying with the number of chronically hungry people spread all over India, it should be possible to arrive at a reasonable estimate. Accordingly it is estimated that `730 billion will be required for five years to feed 200 million people.
Validation: The above calculation was validated with some glaring examples where huge money was involved. The “cricketonomics” used by the author refers to the money equivalent of the entire game of T20 and linked to “hungeronomics” for better understanding. Based on the officially published cricket economy of `4,200 crore in the first edition of IPL played in 2008 in India, one ball bowled (out of a total of 14,160) was equivalent to `3.39 crore, one run scored (out of a total of 17,610 runs) was equivalent to `3.72 crore and one wicket taken (out of a total of 622 wickets) was equivalent to `7.67 crore. When converted into the potential to feed the hungry, it worked out that one ball bowled could feed 4,643 persons, one run scored 3,276 persons and one wicket taken 10,975 persons, thus 19,164 hungry people could have satisfied their hunger with just one unit of ball, run and wicket! Further multiplication showed that total balls bowled, runs scored and wickets taken was equivalent to satiating the hunger of 65.7, 65.6 and 6.6 million respectively, totalling to an amazing figure of 137.9 million, almost 40% of the hungriest Indians. Even if 10% of the profit was diverted for the noble cause of rescuing the poorest of the poor, over 13 million people with chronic hunger could have got the benefit of IPL T20! Could anyone imagine such an extravaganza when the poorest go to bed without food?
It is an open secret that the absolute value of Indian money stashed away in Swiss banks by many honourable citizens is `70 lakh crore, i.e `7,000 billion or `7 trillion! At the rate of `730 billion investment required for five years to combat hunger, approximately 10% Swiss bank money out of `7,000 billion owned by rich Indians is good enough to feed millions of the hungriest poor Indians. Even if 10% of the Swiss bank money holders turn out to be philanthropists and decide to take up the noblest responsibility to eliminate hunger, India can feel proud of getting rid of hungry people, a wishful thinking, but a possibility with positive approach and mindset. The humanitarian feelings to ignite the spirit of giving to the poorest/hungriest are the need of the hour.
Way forward: Now, another source of money is provided to tackle the problems of poverty and hunger, thanks to 2G Spectrum loss of `1,70,000 lakh crore, the recovery of which will amount to several crores. If 10% of the recovered money is diverted for the exclusive purpose of poverty alleviation, India can expect to be hunger-free in 10 years. If combined with the brother scam of Commonwealth Games, the recovery potential will go high and the country is poised for total elimination of hunger! The positive side of the recent scams seems that it is a blessing in disguise for the poorest of the poor if at all the government has the political will with compassion towards those who are starving. The elaborate story of “hungeronomics” can hardly be challenged even by economists whose vision needs revision.
“Are we serious in erasing the name of India from the GHI?” is a million-rupee question to be answered by the newly formed government.
The author is the president of the Tirupati-based Society for Hunger Elimination and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org