India also has one of the highest numbers of underweight children, below the age of five, and one third of 'wasted children' (i.e. those facing a greater chance of death) in the world. In fact, out of a total of 19 million newborns per year in the developing world that are born with low birth-weight, India has 7.4 million low birth-weight babies per year, again the highest in the world.
Noting that the country is an 'economic powerhouse but a nutritional weakling', a report by the British-based Institute of Development Studies, which incorporated papers by more than 20 analysts from India, says, "at least 46 per cent of children up to the age of three in India still suffer from malnutrition." According to Lawrence Haddad, “it’s the contrast between India's fantastic economic growth and its persistent malnutrition which is so shocking," says Lawrence Haddad, director of the IDS.
According to the estimates Dr. Joesph Hulse, who is a distinguished visiting professor with Dr. Swaminathan’s research foundation, there are about 100 million people in India’s rural areas alone who are malnourished.
According to the IDS report, the economic boom has enriched a consumer class of about 50 million people, but an estimated 880 million people still live on less than $2 a day, many of them in conditions worse than those found in sub-Saharan Africa. The report also mentions that on an average, 6,000 children die every day in India, of which, between 2,000 to 3,000 die of malnutrition.
So, has reforms really delivered to the desired extent?
The best way to understand this is by looking at India’s Gini coefficient. It ranges between 0 and 1, where 0 implies perfect equality and 1 connotes total inequality.
Any why not?
I highlighted the plight of the agricultural sector here and here in my blog. Fact is, not only has economic reforms failed to galvanise the agricultural sector, it has failed to improve the delivery mechanisms, that could have improved the plight of the poor.
Fact is, governance has been a big failure, as far as India is concerned. India is very much through with the so called ‘low hanging fruit’ as far as reform efforts are concerned. Where India is failing is in the next steps, which requires the undertaking of the difficult part of the reform process. One of them is reforming bureaucracy and bringing in more accountability. Else delivery mechanisms (read as governance) will continue to be inefficient and real development will elude us. If after nearly two decades of reform India continues to let these important reform agendas pass by, India would continue to be among the wooden spoon winners in Human Development Index and the commitment to Millennium Development Goals would fall flat on its face.
Not that India does not have programs aimed at ameliorating the plight of the poor. But when only about an estimated 15% of the resource allocated for various social programs reach the intended beneficiaries, positive change is hardly visible. Add to that inefficient targeting, and things look quite dismal.
It is no surprise, therefore, that poverty and malnutrition continues to be inexorably high in India.