Toronto: In this Year of India in Canada, India is making news in the media here – not for the second highest growth rate in the world but for its “absolute poverty” and failure to “feed its people.”
The Canadian media has also likened “the boom in Bihar” to “a whimper”.
Writing under the headline ‘Why India can’t feed its people,’ the country’s biggest daily Toronto Star reported from New Delhi Sunday, “Food is an all-consuming crisis here. Waste is only one facet. Agriculture, infrastructure, inflation, innovation and corruption are others. It is a scourge and challenge for this country of 1.2 billion people…”
According to it, “40 percent of Indian children remain chronically malnourished,” with this figure in some parts of India even higher than some sub-Saharan countries.
Citing reports of hungry children eating mud in parts of Uttar Pradesh, the newspaper story said, “Today, there is less food available for each Indian resident that there was 30 years ago. In 2008, the most recent year for which statistics are available, India produced 436 grams of food grains per person per day, a drop from 445.3 in 2006.”
The report said, “As much as 40 per cent of all the fruits, vegetables and food grains grown in India never make it to the market. The country wastes more grain each year than Australia produces, and more fruits and vegetables than the UK consumes.”
Blaming the lack of R&D for the crisis in the Indian agriculture sector which has led to 200,000 suicides since 1997, the report said, “While China pumps $3.5 billion into agricultural research – Chinese farmers grew 6.2 metric tons of rice per hectare in 2008, double India’s output – India’s spends a fraction of that.”
In another story from Dharampur Mushahar Toll in Bihar, the national daily Globe and Mail reported Sunday that “the boom in Bihar sounds more like a whimper.”
Bihar, which has the lowest literacy rate, the highest child-mortality rate and the lowest life expectancy in India, has become a synonym not for intractable despair, but for turnaround under a new reformist government led by “a pot-bellied, teetotalling socialist engineer named Nitish Kumar,” the report said.
But “to travel in Bihar – in the rural areas or in the capital, Patna, where the streets are choked with garbage and the lights flicker out every couple of hours – is to see both how the place has changed, and how terribly far it has to go. And it is in this, more than anything else, that Bihar is emblematic of India – of its dark side of absolute poverty and exclusion, and how very difficult a task it is to change them,” the report said.
The paper said, “Half the children (in Dharampur Mushahar Toll) are without clothes; a third of them have the deep hacking coughs and crusted snot of chronic respiratory-tract infections. In the newly built early-learning centre, a gaggle of three-year-olds sits beneath one tattered poster of the English alphabet – not that there is anyone around who can read it. Few people have any food in their tiny houses; they buy what they can each day after working on the land of higher-caste villagers.”
But giving credit to Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who inherited a “wretched mess” after “15 years of misrule by a theatrical thug Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri”, the report said that under him “the reign of the criminals (has) collapsed; now, in the evenings, the city streets throng with shoppers and families out for ice cream.”
Infrastructure construction is booming, school enrolments have doubled and doctors and teachers show up for duty on time.
But “Mr (Nitish) Kumar, however good his intentions, cannot leapfrog his state into the 21st century. He can drag it to 1950, or 1970. But not to 2011. And there are pockets just like Bihar all over India where this is true.”
By Gurmukh Singh