If poverty is a grim reality in India, hunger is an everyday torment for millions. The reality is stark as India is ranked a lowly 100 among 119 developing countries on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), behind even Bangladesh and Nepal. Over 23 crore Indians go to bed on an empty stomach daily. Kerala, which boasts of human development indices that match the developed world, too, is not immune to this grim reality as 7.1 per cent of the state’s population live below the poverty line.
The state has taken the first step to correct this anomaly. The state budget allocated Rs 70 lakh for the roll-out of ‘Hunger-free Kerala’ in 2017-18, and Rs 20 crore in 2018-19, with pilot projects in Thiruvananthapuram and Alappuzha municipalities.
Micro-level initiatives are already underway, with a few NGOs under the ruling CPM banner taking the lead in Alappuzha. ‘Hunger-free Mararikulam’, a project by the P Krishna Pillai Memorial Pain and Palliative Care Society, an apex body of 11 NGOs working in and around the Kanjikuzhi panchayat in Alappuzha, are providing free food in Mararikulam and four other panchayats. Swanthanam, another palliative care society located in Cherthala, also in Alappuzha, provides food to 300 people in the Cherthala municipality, and another five panchayats in the district.
True, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Andhra Pradesh have all been inspired by Tamil Nadu’s celebrated ‘Amma’ canteens. But what makes the Kerala model different is the active participation of the public, along with many NGOs. The LDF government, that has launched a slew of successful initiatives along the lines of the celebrated Kudumbashree project, has its task cut out with Hunger-free Kerala.
It may not make a significant change to India’s lowly perch on the Hunger Index if Kerala manages to feed those few thousand still going hungry and thus claim the hunger-free status. What it will do is show a few other states the way forward, and instil the belief that hunger can be satiated, if one takes it on at the micro-level.