Monday, March 29, 2010

Food Security Bill and hunger in Orissa

Umi Daniel

On the eve of world food day 2009, World Food Programme (WFP) has revealed that the total number of hungry people across the globe has touched one billion. In India more than 350 million people are hungry and most of the hungry people are from the states which are underdeveloped and backward. Orissa is among the poorest of India’s poor states. It depends largely on an undiversified and subsistence agricultural economy. The poverty headcount rate is 47 percent. Poverty is an overwhelmingly rural phenomenon and is clearly linked to lack of physical access to land, low productivity, and faulty implementation of government food, nutrition and social security schemes. The pervasive and chronic food insecurity of poor communities in Orissa is captured by anthropometric measures as over half of the children between 1 and 5 are stunted. Almost half of all adult women and three quarters of all children under three in Orissa are undernourished. The infant mortality rate for Orissa is higher than any other state in India. And child malnutrition in Orissa is significantly higher than the national average.

The KBK region and other tribal pocket in Orissa are the worst victims of food insecurity because of devastation of forest economy, destruction of natural resources and large scale displacement due to mindless mining and industrial expansion. The prolong unemployment, marginalization and hunger force the people to migrate to other states in search of employment and livelihood. The frequency of natural disasters like cyclone, flood and drought is again making the people more vulnerable and food insecure. In coming days, the climate change effect will further aggravate the situation on the grounds in terms of natural disaster and food production. The over emphasis on the industrial growth in Orissa has outshined the augmentation of agriculture, employment and investment on social security and basic service exacerbating the economic and social vulnerability of the people.

Frequent bouts of Hunger and starvation in Orissa’s poorest regions like Bolangir, Kalahandi and Koraput has become a national shame and public outrage. As per some study, since last 10 years Orissa has reported more than 450 cases of starvation death from various parts of the state out of which bulk of the cases were reported from the KBK region of Orissa. Quite recently, the Hindustan Times has reported the utter vulnerability and distress condition of people living under extreme hunger.

The Union Government’s ambitious National Food Security Act (NFSA) is in the pipeline and going to be passed soon. However, I cast doubt over it and wonder whether the Bill will bring in any impact on the state of Orissa. The key objective of the Bill is to streamline, squeeze and target the food distribution (rice and Wheat) through the PDS with a populist price tag of 3 rupees a kilo and reduced entitlement of 25 Kg from the existing 35 Kg. further the Bill is going to exclude the APL category of beneficiary who are currently guaranteed selected food entitlements. This means the people in KBK who irrespective of APL accessing food will be barred from getting such benefits. Moreover, the Bill is yet to spell out clearly about the fate of Antodaya which is being provided to the poorest community and individuals as food security.

The much hyped and populist policies like 2 rupee rice will certainly give the people some relief to access food, however, the structural aspects of poverty and food insecurity still remains a phenomenal task before the government to tackle. Interestingly, on food security front the state is often compared its record on human development index with some of the poorest sub-Saharan African countries which are poor, underdeveloped and hungry. While, the global Millennium Development Goal of UN has been advocating for halving the hunger by 2015, Orissa needs to come up with its own and realistic goal for alleviation extreme poverty and hunger. Orissa certainly think beyond the current mining economic strategies to a more human development economics with a clear goal of ending extreme hunger, malnutrition and underdevelopment.


  1. Great piece,Daniel ! You have raised quite a few fundamental questions in regard to the NFSA and one hopes policy makers respond to it. But that's only a hope. Time, Govt of India listens to and consults people- with a feel of the ground realities - like you before coming up with high-sounding solutions that are half-baked and most often superfluous.