There is good news that the Indian economy grew at the rate of 7.3 per cent in 2014-15, definitely an improvement to the 6.9 per cent growth rate the previous fincial year. What is significant is that both services and manufacturing sectors have done well this time, though the farm sector remained stagnt. The manufacturing sector rose by 7.1 per cent while fincial, real estate and professiol services registered a growth of 11.5 per cent. Of course, the country’s economy needs to grow faster at an annual rate of 9-10 per cent for at least a decade if the infrastructure is to improve substantially and poverty brought down to significant levels, as Fince minister Arun Jaitley has pointed out. India and Chi are now the fastest growing economies in the world with rates above 7 per cent. Enthused by the latest GDP numbers, the NDA government at the Centre has already claimed achieving an economic turround during its first year of rule, while the Congress has cried foul by accusing the Modi government of fincial jugglery to project higher growth figures. There is also confusion among economists about the growth figures itself with introduction of the new concept of Gross Value Added (GVA) as a measure of economic activity.
The low rates of capital formation in India with the government cutting expenditure to meet fiscal deficit targets, the bad loan burden of over Rs 3,00,000 crore on the banking system, the dismal earnings of the corporate sector, the farm and agricultural sector growing at a negligible 0.2 per cent — are other major areas of concern. The Reserve Bank is therefore likely to desist from any major rate cuts in its latest monetary policy to be announced on Tuesday next. But there is some continuing bad news which gives an idea of the gargantuan challenge before India to feed, clothe, house, educate and give other basic living facilities to its 125 crore (and growing) population. The country is home to a quarter of the world’s 79.46 crore hungry people, and has more undernourished people than Chi, according to the latest report on food insecurity published by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United tions. India has 19.46 crore undernourished people, which is down from 21 crore in 1990-1992, but hardly creditable otherwise. While the extended food distribution programme has contributed to the overall decrease in the number of hungry and malnourished people in India, the FAO report tellingly says: “Higher economic growth has not been fully translated into higher food consumption, let alone better diets overall, suggesting that the poor and hungry may have failed to benefit much from overall growth.”
India has also missed the target of halving its proportion of undernourished people by 2015, a target set in both the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and the World Food Summit (WFS). With India making slow progress here, it is not expected to reach its target even by 2020. As for Chi which had 28.9 crore hungry people in 1990-1992, concerted action by the Communist government has brought it down to 13.38 crore in 2014-2016, a reduction by 60.9 per cent. Even Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives have done better than India in meeting food insecurity targets set in the Millennium Development Goals. With 15.2 per cent of its population going hungry to bed every night, India cannot contemplate double-digit growth in a sustaible manner. It is therefore important to tackle the issue of hunger and malnutrition on a war-footing as part of the larger war against poverty. Slogans like ‘Acche Din’ will go the way of the discredited ‘Rising India’, if enclaves of Indian prosperity keep coming up against the vast backwardness of Bharat — missing out on growth that refuses to be inclusive. The NDA government has to get over its ambivalence with the tiol Food Security Act (NFSA) started by its predecessor, and move forcefully to implement it after plugging its gaps. As for States like Assam, Bihar, West Bengal and Jharkhand where the public distribution service (PDS) is badly leaking and languishing, it is imperative for their governments to get their acts together and work earnestly to feed the people. a