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Chronic hunger still haunts India

Thursday 18 December 2003

Article paru dans le Times of India, ?dition en ligne du jeudi 18 d?cembre 2003.

NEW DELHI : One in every 200 households in rural India and one in every 1,000 households in towns go "chronically hungry", not getting enough to eat in any of the months.

Since the country has about 200 million households with five persons each, the number of people going hungry must be huge.

These facts brought to light by the latest round (57th) of the National Sample Survey (NSS) pertaining to the year, June 2001 to June 2002, provide sobering thoughts for the country which is in a celebratory mood with the much-touted "feel-good factor" about its economic performance.

The report on "Household consumer expenditure and employment-unemployment situation in India , 2001-02" also highlights that 16 out of 1,000 rural households and three out of 1,000 urban households went seasonally hungry - they did not get enough food in many months of the year.

Six per cent of urban dwellers were either homeless or living in shanties and 60 per cent households lived in houses they owned. Another 34 per cent had rented dwellings. In rural India , 94 per cent of the households had their own houses.

Only 52 per cent in villages had access to electricity as compared to 91 per cent houses in urban India .

Over two-fifths of the population in villages and more than one-third in towns was employed. Among males, 55 per cent in both rural and urban areas were employed. While 31 per cent of rural women were part of the work force, only 14 per cent of urban women fell in that category.

For both males and females, unemployment rates were much higher in urban areas than in rural areas.

The average per capita monthly consumer expenditure in urban areas was Rs 933. In villages, the monthly consumer expenditure was only Rs 498.

The hungry millions notwithstanding, at a macro-level, India is spending less on food in the total expenditure. This is true for both towns and villages. Despite the decline, rural India continues to spend more than half of the total consumption expenditure on food.

The share of food in total expenditure declined to 43 per cent in urban areas in 2001-02 from 56 per cent in 1987-88 (43rd NSS round). For villages, the decline was to 55.5 per cent from 64 per cent.

Also, showing progress is the fact that spending on cereals as a proportion of the total expenditure is down to 19 per cent in villages and 11 per cent in towns.

Rural India spent Rs 276 on food, of which it spent Rs 96 on cereals and Rs 93 on milk, milk products, vegetables and edible oil.

For urban India , the monthly expenditure per capita on food was Rs 402, of which only Rs 99 went towards cereals while Rs 148 was spent on milk, vegetables and edible oil.

The per capita non-food expenditure in villages was Rs 222 per month. Of this, Rs 44 was spent on fuel and light and Rs 40 for clothing and footwear. In towns, the non-food expenditure was Rs 531 of which Rs 83 went towards fuel and light and Rs 68 towards clothing and footwear.

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