By DrÂ Amrit Patel:
Mahatma Gandhi ji had a vision that India after its independence should achieve self-sufficiency of villages in which every one would have adequate food, shelter, clothing, proper hygienic and sanitation facilities and every person willing to work is provided gainful employment. Let not history of India record that Mahatma Gandhijee brought political independence for India but the Government could not bring economic emancipation for rural poor. In this context, this paper highlights following alarming state of poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security in the country and suggests that Twelfth Plan [2012-17] should give focused attention to significantly ameliorate the deteriorating situation.
Our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, while chairing the full Planning Commission meeting on April 21, 2011, aptly said “The 12th plan objective must be faster, more inclusive and also sustainable growth. We need to identify the critical areas where existing policies and programs are not delivering results and should, therefore, be strengthened or even restructured”. In this context, since policies, programs and their implementation on rural poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security could not deliver expected results during the 11th Plan which achieved an annual growth rate of 8.2%, need to be re-looked and new initiatives are called for to tackle them during the 12th Plan when the Prime Minister has agreed to work towards a growth target of 9.0% to 9.5%.
Poverty: According to NSS round [2004-05], 41.8% rural population had monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.447 as against 25.7% urban population having monthly per capita expenditure of Rs.578.8. According to Multidimensional Poverty Index [MPI] worked out by UNDP & Oxford University, July 2010, about 645 million people [55%] in India are poor. As against 410 million MPI poor in 26 of the poorest African countries, eight Indian States [Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal] have 421 million MPI poor. The MPI reveals a vivid spectrum of challenges facing the poorest households. MPI considers 10 sharp indicators, namely Education [child enrolment and years of schooling]; Health [child mortality and nutrition] and Standard of living [electricity, drinking water, sanitation, cooking fuel, flooring and assets]. A global report on poverty eradication of the U.N. Secretary-General shows that economic growth is evident for the progress in China in reducing extreme poverty and raising living standards, whereas India is expected to be home to more than 300 million in poverty out of 900 million predicted to be in extreme poverty in 2015.
Hunger: In India, the right to food campaign launched in 2001 focused its demand to address the structural roots of hunger since India’s commitments to tackle the problem of hunger and malnutrition are among the worst. India currently has world’s largest food insecure population with more than 260 million people facing hunger and deprivation. According to the Global Hunger Index , India ranks 66 among 88 countries surveyed by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute. India comes below Sudan, Nigeria and Cameroon. Under the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal No.1, for Sustainable Human Security and Peace India is committed to reduce hunger and poverty by half by 2015
Food Security: Per capita availability of food grains and other essential food products in India is below the world average and significantly lower than in developed countries. Food is unaffordable for a large number of the poor in India. Under the proposed legislation for food security to India’s teeming millions, the Expert Committee has estimated procurement & distribution of food not less than 63.98 million tons, rising to 73.98 million tons by 2016-17 against the likely procurement of 57.61 million tons in 2013-14.As about 800 million persons are sought to be covered under Food Security Act, it is necessary to substantially increase food productivity & output to facilitate the estimated level of procurement, create additional facilities for transport, processing, storage and evolve transparent distribution mechanism. A large amount of the subsidized food grains targeted at BPL households, some APL households and other vulnerable groups find its way to the open market. Scientific studies revealed that in 2001-02, 18.2% of PDS rice and 67% PDS wheat were diverted. In other words, over 40% of all grain targeted at the poor did not reach the poor. Using the NSS expenditure survey of 2004-05, overall diversion was of 55% of the grain meant for the poor. The same problem is manifested in case of kerosene, diesel and fertilizers. Besides, the current system is beset with significant level of adulteration, pilferage and corruption.
Focused Attention: Chronic problems of rural poverty, hunger, child nutrition and food security, among others, need focused attention to significantly develop productivity, production and profitability of farming enterprise by creating enabling environment through enhancing annual public sector investment, arresting imbalance in the flow of farm credit, legal framework for defining tenant farmers’ relationship with land in particular
Investment: The Gross Capital Formation [GCF] in agriculture and allied sectors as a proportion to the GDP in the sector stagnated around 14% during 2004-05 to 2006-07. Though it increased to 16.03% in 2007-08 and 19.67% in 2008-09 [provisional] and estimated 20.30% in 2009-10, the GCF in agriculture and allied sectors relative to overall GDP has remained stagnant at around 2.5% to 3.0%. As a result the share of GCF in agriculture and allied sector in total GCF has remained in the range of 6.6% to 8.2% during 2004-05 to 2009-10. To accelerate the process of farm development and achieve inclusive rural growth, policy should focus on critical areas, namely [i] accelerated investment in rural infrastructure to improve transport, communication, storage, processing and marketing facilities [ii] establishing State of Art Agri-meteorology [iii] expanding irrigation and reclamation of wastelands [iv] strengthening agricultural education, research and extension services and capacity building of farmers to bridge the yield gap between the potential yields and actual yields at field level in rain-fed and irrigated farming systems [v] development and use of genetically engineered seeds, micro-irrigation systems, greenhouse technology, integrated nutrient and pest management techniques, computer-based modeling to track disease and pest incidence [vi] farm mechanization [vii] remote sensing technology. Investment in agriculture would facilitate farmers’ access to frontier technology, food processing, farm-to-market linkages, agricultural extension, weather and crop forecasting, large-scale development of bio-diesel, mechanization and commercialization of agriculture. Public, private and foreign investment should remedy the situation of investment shortage in agriculture and help transform a ‘negative subsidy regime’ into a ‘capital-intensive positive Agricultural Marketing Service regime’ and stimulate Indian producers to access global markets. Government, Agricultural Universities and ICAR Institutes along with industrial, business and commercial houses in close coordination should accelerate their efforts to accomplish this task
Farm Credit: The credit flow to agriculture since 1970 till 2010 has been of the order of Rs.28,53,261 crore, of which 81.50% was disbursed between 2001-02 to 2009-10. However, its impact on improving crop productivity and output has been low. Despite banking system has been achieving stipulated credit targets announced in the budgets since 2001-02 in absolute terms every year there have been significant disparities in credit flow between States, between districts and between villages. In fact, in absence of appropriate legal frame work tenant farmers, share croppers, oral lessees, landless laborers, households residing in hilly, tribal, desert, drought prone areas in particular do not have easy and reliable access to institutional credit.
Tenant Farmers: India has a large number of tenant farmers whose legal relationship with the landowners and the piece of land they cultivate has yet not been acknowledged through statutory legal framework to facilitate them to access credit from banks and insurance cover from insurance companies. The National Sample Survey  estimated that the area under informal tenancy in India varies between 15% and 35% of the total farm area and 36% of the total households leasing land are landless laborers and 47.5% having land below 0.5 hectare.
Conclusion: Rural households should identify their financial and non-financial needs for income generating activities in rural farm and non-farm sector and infrastructure and demand them from elected representatives. State and Union Government need to allocate adequate financial resources in their annual budgets to tackle issues of poverty, hunger, child nutrition, food security and rural infrastructure.