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One can understand the existence of 200 million hungry and malnourished people in a country that has no resources to grow or purchase food for all.

But what explains the situation in a country like India where there is 80 million tons of food grains lying in stocks, rotting in many places in over-filled godowns. With more than surplus food grains in stocks, why are there an astounding 200 million people going hungry day after day?

This is clearly a result of policy failure where availability of food is not a problem but making it accessible to the poorest of the poor, either through food-for-work programmes or below poverty line entitlements, is.

Our focus this month is on the problem of gnawing hunger and malnutrition of 200 million people in India. This, at a time when 80 million tons of food grains are lying in stocks and when food grains are found rotting in many places in over-filled godowns.

The situation stands compounded as the well-fed sections of India which largely comprise the middle class, are completely oblivious to this grim reality. It is not their fault alone as the popular media has downplayed the shameful truth of millions going hungry night after night. Thus, you have stories of the affluent spending upwards of Rs.8, 000 - 10,000 per month on the choicest pet foods for their dogs and cats while the poorest of the poor would be going hungry not too far from the towns and cities.

The well-known bureaucrat-turned activist-writer Harsh Mander has sought to draw attention to this problem and paradox through his latest book which is the subject of our cover story this month. A powerful extract from Mander's book, Ash in the Belly: India's Unfinished Battle with Hunger is featured in the books section.

Mander's book has been reviewed by a practicing physician, Dr. Ajey Hardeekar who recalls that he encountered malnutrition more as a medical condition as a student at the B.J. Medical College than as "something causing real human suffering. "He endorses Mander's view: “We need to be more outraged than we are, about the inequity and suffering of our populace. The great gaping hole in our collective souls needs to be mended."

The Supreme Court of India has been seized of the matter and as noted by the website of the Supreme Court commissioners, the Right to Food case is public interest litigation and over time, has become an “enormous” litigation, covering a range of issues including those of transparency and accountability. The central government’s Right to Food bill, being debated in Parliament currently, is seen as a response to this situation while being viewed as a pre-election gimmick by its opponents. Whatever be the case, the fact is that the extent of perennial hunger and malnutrition in India is untenable and must be addressed one way or the other.

Related to the issue of development is an essay by Prof. Vasant Natarajan from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, who questions the skewed approach to research and development in India's scientific establishments. More than anything else, India needs a heavy focus on socially-relevant research wherein technological interventions can solve a myriad of problems. One example that comes to mind is the ‘Swach’ nanotechnology-based ultra low-cost water filtration system developed by the Tatas which had made an enormous difference.

Ritu Goyal Harish's article, Touch that can Transform Civic Schools shows how meaningful external assistance can make a valuable difference to the vast numbers of municipal schools in the country. Although funded by civic bodies, the quality of education in these schools is extremely poor. The manner in which Pune's Thermax Foundation has adopted a handful of civic schools to impart quality education to poor children is a shining example that can be followed by other corporates. Our section Making a Difference has the full story.

One of the highlights this month is the very inspiring letter by India's badminton legend Prakash Padukone to his daughters Deepika and Anisha. Reflecting on his own struggles and challenges, Padukone tells his daughters about how he remained focused on the game he loved and refused to whine or complain about all that was wrong. As he writes, "I could have complained about everything...but a generation of people in the seventies chose to just accept the conditions that existed and made the best out of them. See Inner Space for the full story.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. Do write to us and we will continue with our efforts to give you a better, thought-provoking website, month after month.

Best wishes!

Abhay Vaidya,
Editor

About Us: Change for Better is a journal promoting constructive thought and action. It is published by Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited (MKCL). Now in its 12th year, MKCL is the largest provider of basic computer education in India with a chain of over 5,000 franchises.

 

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