Friday, February 15, 2013

Hunger and Nutrition: Time to Act*

On 15 February, 2013, Dogra Hall of IIT Delhi was brimming with an enthusiastic crowd, comprising mostly young students and teachers, to listen to India’s foremost thinker on hunger and malnutrition—Prof. Amartya Sen. A panel discussion entitled Hunger and Nutrition: Time to Act was organized there by Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (IIT-D).

In her introduction, Dr. Reetika Khera (IIT Delhi) informed that the Government is thinking of enacting the National Food Security legislation. Life cycle approach to food security has been considered under the new bill. (Nutrition during childhood and adolescence influence a woman’s pre-conceptional nutritional status, which subsequently influences the outcome of pregnancy and the health of her child). Initially, in-kind transfers like PDS, MDMS and ICDS were considered under the National Food Security Bill (NFSB) (Please check: Standing Committee Report on National Food Security Bill, 2011, Twenty Seventh Report (January, 2013), Fifteenth Lok Sabha).  Now under the same bill there is provision for cash transfers.

Reetika explained that the PDS is known for two reasons nowadays—a. It is corrupt and leaky; and b. PDS suffers from inclusion and exclusion errors. However, PDS coverage is less than what is required. In a survey of 9 states done during 2011, it was found that in Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the PDS has been functioning well. PDS revival could be seen in Himachal Pradesh and Odisha. PDS leakages in Chhattisgarh have been brought down from 50 percent to 10 percent. (For more on this, please check: Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations -Reetika Khera (November, 2011), Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVI, No. 44 & 45, Nov 5). She said that the Standing Committee on NFSB has recommended provisioning of only 5kg of foodgrains per person, which is about half of what is required on an average in a month according to the ICMR norms. She asked that it needs to be seen whether individual entitlements are better than household entitlements. Reetika asked whether the principle of monthly entitlements of 5kg of foodgrains per person to only 67 per cent of the population (75 per cent in rural areas and 50 per cent in urban areas) be followed uniformly across all the states and UTs irrespective of their urban-rural population compositions.

Shyama Singh (grassroots worker at NREGA Sahayata Kendra, Jharkhand) informed that 90 percent population in her state is poor. Out of 12 months in a year, beneficiaries are not provided ration in 4 months. There exists low purchase-to-entitlement ratio. Gram Sabha meetings are now regularly held to monitor the working of NREGS and PDS. A lot of struggle took place in the past for transparency in the NREGS due to which Lalit Mehta (2008) and Niyamat Ansari (2010) lost their lives. These two social workers lost their lives since they tried to expose corruption in the job scheme. Muster rolls are now regularly presented before the Gram Sabha. There was a time when mates were employed on behalf of contractors. But they have now been replaced following the Panchayati Raj elections. Maintaining attendance sheet in NREGS work is a crucial task for mates. Mates are now selected by the people and not from contractors’ side.

Shyama Singh said that wells are now being constructed in Palamu and Latehar districts, which are benefitting the small farmers and irrigation. Due to dearth of technical expertise, wells collapsed at many places earlier. But that problem has been overcome. .         

Shyama was positive about the Right to Food legislation. In Jharkhand, people want ration instead of cash transfers. This is because: a. Banking infrastructure is poor; b. Banks are remotely situated; c. Poor people often have to stand in long queues to avail banking services; and d. Cash transfer has not been linked to rate of inflation. She suggested that godowns for storing foodgrains should be brought under the ambit of panchayats. There should be social auditing of local PDS and ICDS by an independent agency.

Referring to the NFSB, Shantha Sinha (Chairperson National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights) said that the Parliamentary Standing Committee has diluted the bill by replacing children's entitlement with an additional allocation of 5 kg of food grains per month for pregnant women under the PDS. In India, 46 percent of children are malnourished. Nearly 48 percent of Indian children are stunted. Slums of Delhi and Mumbai show the pathetic situation of children. Children die due to malnutrition and hunger. At many places migrant labourers have asked for anganwadi centres and access to food under the ICDS. People want their children to be healthy. It is a welcome step that the Standing Committee on NFSB has suggested that MDMS will be extended to children aged 16 years. The Supreme Court orders on Right to Food and the states that followed those orders led to the growth of anganwadi centres in the country. (ICDS is implemented through 12.41 lakh centres known as anganwadi centres (AWCs), each located in a habitation of 400-800 population). The NFSB has, however, bypassed the ICDS and anganwadi centres. The Standing Committee has also suggested restricting maternity benefits to the first two children to ensure population stabilization. By denying food to children, family planning measure is pushed through. The Committee is silent on support for breastfeeding. Shantha Sinha emphasized that a legal framework on Right to Food is a commitment from the State. A vibrant and inclusive NFSB will deepen democracy. As opposed to Montek S Ahluwalia she said that ICDS is functioning well and exclusive breastfeeding is practiced everywhere.

(For a critique of Standing Committee’s recommendations on the NFSB, please go to: Why the Parliament should reject the standing committee’s recommendations on the Food Security Bill: RTFC).     

Montek S Ahluwalia (Deputy Chairperson, Planning Commission) said that some of the things as facts should be accepted. But given that the data on malnutrition dates back to 2005-06 (NFHS-3), he estimated malnutrition prevalence in the country to be one-third of India’s child population rather than 46 percent as stated by Shantha Sinha. (Please check my blog post: India’s nutrition and hunger data is too old). Government policies have been sensitized to the issue of malnutrition. The rate of decline in malnutrition has been slower than the rate of decline in poverty, he said. Civil society has helped in taking up the issue of malnutrition. The criticism of the Supreme Court is valid. However, universalization without quality (U without Q) will not work. The ICDS is not working well may be because it is under-funded, under-manned or maybe there are other factors. There is a need to resolve the issue that how ICDS is affecting malnutrition. But inadequacy of data is a problem. He said that there are too many low birth weight children taking birth in India. Early marriage (due to social prejudice) when female body is not prepared to give birth is the main reason behind low birth weight. (Nearly 47 percent Indian girls get married before age 18). Exclusive breast feeding should be done in the first 6 months but a statute cannot guarantee this. In many Indian families, early breast feeding is not considered clean. Instead of ICDS, IEC-information, education and communication promoting good child rearing is essential. Unfortunately exclusive breastfeeding is not practiced in India. [Percentage of children receiving exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of life is 46 percent (as per latest available data during 2006-2010)]. Poor people emulate things, which are not healthy practices. Since most damage is done to a child during the first 3 years since its birth, the ICDS should concentrate on children below 3 years instead of children between 3 years and 6 years.

Montek S Ahluwalia informed that immunization rate in India is worse than that in Bangladesh and China. [Vaccine coverage in the case of DTP3 (third dose of diphtheria and tetanus toxoid and pertussis vaccine) is 72 percent and in the case of measles is 74 percent in 2011]. Conditional cash transfer for child immunization could be suggested. He said that family income has a role in ensuring food security.

Montek S Ahluwalia said that the Government is committed to provide foodgrains to 67 percent of its population in India. Institutional arrangement for the supply of foodgrains require: a. Centre to transfer foodgrains to the states; and b. Centre to transfer subsidy to the states. States vary in efficiency with which they run PDS. Naming and shaming the poor performing states through monitoring and evaluation is difficult due to the political nature of PDS. Fiscal deficit issue should not be raised in the case of NFSB and an additional allocation of Rs. 20000-Rs. 30000 crore can be made. (Presently India spends Rs. 70000 crore on food subsidy). Subsidies on diesel, which is presently at Rs. 91000 crore has to be done away with.  

Amartya Sen (Professor of Economics and Philosophy at Harvard University) said that those who oppose custom duties on gold imports or taxes on fuel are organized but children are unorganized. One needs to see whether the political parties are taking up the right issues. Political parties should be sympathetic to issues of food security and nutrition. He said that the extent of healthcare and nutrition policies in India is appalling in India. Although India’s economic growth is quite close to that of China, India has comparatively higher proportion of malnourished children. India (Gini coefficient of 0.37) is less unequal than China (Gini coefficient 0.474) [A Gini of zero denotes absolute equality, while a value of 1 (or 100 on the percentile scale) means absolute inequality]. One third of Indian families don’t have electricity connections. (Census 2011 finds that for 67.2 percent of Indian households the chief source of lighting is electricity). Half the Indian families don’t have any toilet. (Census 2011 finds that for 53.1 percent of Indian households there is no latrine within the premises). In China, the corresponding figure for no latrine is only 1 percent and in Bangladesh it is only 6 percent. On the basis of nature of inequality in India, the nature of development can be determined. The development model adopted by the country has not gone well beyond a certain extent.

Amartya Sen informed that the Asian growth model pioneered by Japan after the Meiji restoration in the 19th century and that was followed by South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and finally China emphasized on enhancing human capabilities. All these countries placed immense faith on education and health. A multi-party system is also essential for freedom of expression. Apart from liberty what is important are equality and basic capabilities. Public reasoning has been considered important by John Stuart Mill.

Amartya Sen said that there is need for courage and reasoning and then the need to integrate the two. He said that it is difficult to assess what is affecting malnutrition. But on the basis of evidence, there is a need to see what modifications can be made in the NFSB. Reason instead of passion should be used to decide whether cash or in-kind transfer should be made. Food in kind has a greater impact on malnutrition reduction rather than cash. If cash is given to women, it is difficult to assess whether the money has been spent on children or something else. If there are problems associated with identification even after Aadhaar enrollment, then there is no basic difference between cash and in-kind transfers. He said that public reasoning cannot be done without data or statistics. Since there is no updated malnutrition related data, the principle of Urban-50% and Rural-75% cannot be applied.

Amartya Sen informed that China has done better in reducing child malnutrition. In China, minimum wages have increased by 7 folds as compared to India. In Tamil Nadu the ICDS has done well. The moral objective to be informed is essential.

Speaking on the NFSB, Amartya said that the bill has watered down the directives of the Supreme Court pertaining to food security and nutrition. The Standing Committee has further weakened the bill by removing the entitlement under the ICDS. Gujarat’s growth story has been overplayed since states like Maharashtra, Uttarakhand and Bihar too displayed higher economic growth. For sustaining growth in the long-run, there is need for an effective strategy in health, nutrition and educational fronts. For India, it would be difficult to sustain economic growth with such high levels of poverty and undernutrition. Jamshed ji Tata developed Jamshedpur as a municipality and invested in education and health. He understood the importance of these two factors in economic growth like in the Asian growth model. Amartya Sen mentioned about the Bhore Committee Report on health (1946). Imitating Chinese growth path without knowing how China invested in enhancing human capabilities is not a good idea, added Sen.

On the advantages of a universal PDS over a targeted one, Amartya Sen said a. Universal schemes help to avoid corruption; b. Presence of powerful and influential people who have a stake in such programmes make such programmes relatively efficient; and c. Exclusion is absent and citizens' right is ensured.

* While utmost care has been taken in good faith to summarize the main speakers’ views, these may not be exact quotes. Please check with the speakers for verbatim quotes.       

Monday, February 11, 2013

Poverty and Unemployment cause suicides in India

The new report released by Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) entitled: Statistical Year Book, India 2013 (url: provides suicide related data due to various causes across states and UTs (url: The suicide data available in this report is actually supplied by the National Crime Records Bureau’s Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India.

Suicides due to poverty, unemployment and bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status

Key findings:

·         Of the total 397335 number of suicides committed in India between 2009 and 2011, 8854 were caused by bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status (percentage share: 2.23%), 8316 were caused due to poverty (share: 2.09%) and 7027 were caused due to unemployment (share: 1.77%). 

·         Illness compelled 81765 suicides between 2009 and 2011 and it's percentage share in total suicides during the same period was 20.58%.

·         Family problems pushed 94847 persons to commit suicide between 2009 and 2011 and it's percentage share in total suicides during the same period was 23.87%.

·         At the national level, total number of suicides caused by bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status increased from 2709 in 2010 to 2983 in 2011. Total number of suicides due to poverty has declined from 3047 in 2010 to 2282 in 2011. Total number of suicides due to unemployment has increased from 2222 in 2010 to 2333 in 2011 (see graph).

·         The leading states where bankruptcy or sudden change in economic status caused suicides were Andhra Pradesh (2713), Maharashtra (2162), Kerala (1353) and Karnataka (602) between 2009 and 2011. In Andhra Pradesh, suicides under this category jumped from 711 in 2010 to 1114 in 2011.

·         The leading states where poverty caused suicides were Andhra Pradesh (4299), Tamil Nadu (873), Maharashtra (769) and Karnataka (718) between 2009 and 2011. In Andhra Pradesh, suicides under this category declined from 1533 in 2010 to 1252 in 2011.

The leading states where unemployment caused suicides were West Bengal (1396), Tamil Nadu (994), Maharashtra (834) and Gujarat (765) between 2009 and 2011. In West Bengal, suicides under this category rose from 462 in 2010 to 506 in 2011.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Do poor states perform poorly in PDS?

The article titled: Villagers in poor states use ration shops less, shows survey data written by Surabhi and carried out by The Indian Express dated 29 January, 2013 states that:

“Rural families in low income states such as Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal depend far less on ration shops for wheat and rice than the national average. In Bihar, less than 12 per cent of the rural population uses ration shops to buy rice, and in West Bengal, less than 6 per cent of rice consumed by rural families is bought from these shops, data from five-yearly National Sample Surveys (NSS) show.

In richer states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka by contrast, a massive 91 per cent and 75 per cent respectively of the rural population uses ration shops”.

The Indian Express news story further adds:

“In states with weak income indicators, the weak delivery system shows up in all commodities except kerosene. In rural Bihar, just five per cent of the total rice and wheat consumed came from ration shops. In UP, less than seven per cent of wheat consumed by rural households is bought through the PDS”.

What am I opposing?

It would be wrong to infer from The Indian Express article that in the poorer states PDS is not functioning well. At certain places, the news article is factually wrong. The article also misses to clarify why PDS performed well in certain states but not in the rest. Reviewing past studies, I would like to argue that a targeted PDS was detrimental to its functioning. PDS reforms carried out by various state governments proved to be beneficial.

Before going further to break the myth created by the Indian Express news story, I would like to mention that we are looking at two things in the NSS 66th Round report on PDS, which is available here:

a. Proportion of households reporting PDS rice/ wheat purchase (can also be termed as incidence of PDS purchases)
b. Share of PDS purchases in total consumption (for rice and wheat)

A careful reading of the NSS 66th Round report on PDS indicates that the contribution of PDS purchases to total consumption in 2009-10 witnessed a considerable improvement compared to 2004-05, particularly for rice and wheat/ atta.

The case for rice

Source: NSS 66th Round Report titled: Public Distribution System and Other Sources of Household Consumption (July 2009-June 2010), page 17

Now, let me demystify one by one what the NSS report says (see the table S3-1):

1. Table S3-1 (column 2) of the NSS 66th round report shows that for the rural sector, the proportion of households reporting PDS purchase of rice (consumption in a 30-day period) was highest for Tamil Nadu (91% of households), followed by Andhra Pradesh (83.9%), Karnataka (74.6%), Chhattisgarh (67.4%), Kerala (54.3%), Odisha (51.6%), and Maharashtra (46.8%).

2. Table S3-1 (column 6 and 7) of the NSS report displays that the contribution of PDS purchases was highest in Tamil Nadu (rural: 52.7%, urban: 40.9%), followed by Karnataka (rural: 45%, urban: 17.7%), Chhattisgarh (rural: 41.2%, urban: 25.7%), Andhra Pradesh (rural: 32.9%, urban: 21.5%), and Kerala (rural: 27.9%, urban: 24%).

Why are some states performing so well in PDS rice?

From point no. 1 and 2 mentioned above, it could be inferred that in a poor state like Chhattisgarh [BPL population: 48.7 percent in 2009-10; Per Capita Net State Domestic Product (factor cost) stood at Rs. 25835 during 2009-10 as compared to India’s Per Capita Net National Product (factor cost) Rs. 33731], both incidence of PDS purchases and dependence on PDS improved due to the reforms carried out by the state government.

The well-documented factors behind Chhattisgarh’s PDS success are: a. Political will; b. Private dealers replaced by panchayats; c. 70 percent of the population covered at Rs. 2/ Rs. 1 per kg of rice; d. Huge investment from state revenues; e. Chhattisgarh is a rice surplus state and procures approximately 40 lakhs million tonnes of paddy annually, which is the 5th largest in India; f. Corrupt persons have been put behind the bars; g. Toll free number for grievance redressal and h. Constant monitoring. More BPL cards were issued under the Mukhyamantri Khadyann Sahayata Yojana (MKSY) in Chhattisgarh. 2 kg iodized salt to every BPL household is being provided free of cost under Amrit Namak Yojana on a monthly basis. The PDS department has been kept out of the ambit of money making or corruption since it was considered important to win elections. For more on this, please refer to Reforming the Public Distribution System: Lessons from Chhattisgarh by Raghav Puri, Economic and Political Weekly, February 4, 2012 Vol xlvIi, No. 5.

It has been shown by Reetika Khera [Revival of the Public Distribution System: Evidence and Explanations (November, 2011), Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLVI, No. 44 & 45, Nov 5] that in states like Andhra Pradesh [BPL population: 21.1 percent in 2009-10], Himachal Pradesh [BPL population: 9.5 percent in 2009-10] and Tamil Nadu [BPL population: 17.1 percent in 2009-10], where PDS is either universal or quasi-universal, the performance has been better. Free grains were given in Tamil Nadu since June 2011. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu never put caps on the number of BPL households and these states do not have a BPL category for the PDS. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have moved to per capita entitlements. Dal and edible oil are provided under the PDS. Edible oil and dal can be purchased from PDS shops in Himachal Pradesh apart from kerosene, sugar and salt. 

In Odisha [BPL population: 37.0 percent in 2009-10; HDI ranking: 22 (HDI-0.362) in 2007-08], the PDS has been universalized in Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput (KBK) region. Grain is provided at Rs 2/kg to BPL households in the KBK region. Odisha has entrusted the management of the fair price shops to gram panchayat secretaries. The purchase to entitlement ratio-PER (proportion of full entitlement purchased by BPL households) in Odisha is nearly 100 percent. 

In her past study based on secondary data from NSS 2007-08, Reetika Khera [Trends in Diversion of PDS Grain (March, 2011), Working Paper No. 198, Centre for Development Economics] has found that in the reviving/reforming states of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh per capita monthly PDS purchase has improved.

Now, let me come to the next two points that I deduce from the table S3-1.

3. Table S3-1 (column 2 and 3) shows that in states like Bihar (rural: 12.2%, urban: 4.2%), West Bengal (rural: 25.7%, urban: 6.9%), and Jharkhand (rural: 26.4%, urban: 8.6%), the proportion of households reporting PDS purchase of rice is quite low. Similar, situation could be observed in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.

4. Table S3-1 (column 6 and 7) shows that the share of PDS purchases in consumption was low in Bihar (rural: 5.1%, urban: 2.2%), West Bengal (rural: 6.3%, urban: 2.9%), Assam (rural: 11.2%, urban: 5.1%), and Jharkhand (rural: 14.0%, urban: 7.4%). The share of PDS rice purchases in consumption is also low in Punjab, Rajasthan and Haryana.

Why are some states languishing in PDS rice?

Khera’s (November, 2011) paper indicates that in Bihar 15 kg of rice (Rs 6.7/kg) and 10 kg of wheat (Rs 5.22/kg) are given on a monthly basis under the PDS to households. Sugar, salt, edible oil and pulses are not provided. In Jharkhand, 35 kg of rice (Re 1/kg) is given on a monthly basis under the PDS to households. Sugar, salt, edible oil and pulses are not provided. In these two states, BPL lists are patchy and PDS is subject to "exclusion errors". Full quota is seldom received by the BPL households in Bihar [BPL population: 53.5 percent in 2009-10; HDI ranking: 21 (HDI-0.367) in 2007-08] and Jharkhand [BPL population: 39.1 percent in 2009-10; HDI ranking: 19 (HDI-0.376) in 2007-08] as indicated by low purchase to entitlement ratio. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, fair price shops are operated by private dealers. Poor quality grain, which is supplied, is not liked by the consumers. Khera (March, 2011) says that diversion of foodgrains is rampant in West Bengal.

The case for wheat

Source: NSS 66th Round Report titled: Public Distribution System and Other Sources of Household Consumption (July 2009-June 2010), page 20

Let me explain what I derive from the Table S4-1 of the NSS report.

5. It can be seen from Table S4-1 (column 2) of the NSS 66th round report that for the rural sector, the proportion of households reporting PDS purchase of wheat (consumption in a 30-day period) was highest for Karnataka (69.2% of households), followed by Tamil Nadu (57.3%), Madhya Pradesh (45.7%) and Maharashtra (44.2%).

6. Table S4-1 (column 6 and 7) of the NSS report shows that the contribution of PDS purchases was greatest in Tamil Nadu (rural: 85.8%, urban: 64.7%), and also large in Karnataka (rural: 51.5%, urban: 13.5%), West Bengal (rural: 41.4%, urban: 11.7%), Kerala (rural: 39.7%, urban: 33.1%) and Chhattisgarh (rural: 39.1%, urban: 17.9%).

I am also providing below the other points that could be interpreted from Table S4-1 of the NSS report.

7. It can be inferred from Table S4-1 (column 2 and 3) that in states like Assam (rural: 1.2%, urban: 1.5%), Andhra Pradesh (rural: 1.7%, urban: 2.8%), Odisha (rural: 5.2%, urban: 7.5%) and Bihar (rural: 12.7%, urban: 5.4%) the proportion of households reporting PDS purchase of wheat is quite low.

8. Table S4-1 (column 6 and 7) also shows that the share of PDS purchases in consumption was low in Assam (rural: 1.5%, urban: 1.3%), Bihar (rural: 5.1%, urban: 2.4%), Andhra Pradesh (rural: 5.1%, urban: 7.5%) and Uttar Pradesh (rural: 6.8%, urban: 7.6%).

Past studies can again be consulted (as I did earlier) to explain why some states have performed better than the rest in PDS wheat.