Food and Water
are so many Indians hungry? Where is the clean drinking water?
India today is home to one-fourth of the world’s hungry, according
to the World Bank. We also have the dubious distinction of being home
to the fastest growing hungry population. By 2000-01, an average Indian
family of four members was absorbing 93 kg less foodgrain compared to
three years earlier. The blame for this goes to the hike in prices of
wheat and rice sold to the poor. Given their very low income and purchasing
power, it had only one possible impact — a decline in consumption
by the poor.
The food mountains with the government keep growing. At a time when newspapers
were full of reports of starvation deaths, suicides and malnutrition from
different parts of the country, foodgrain was allowed to rot in godowns
but not distributed to the millions too poor to fend off starvation. The
poor are also not assured of safe drinking water. More than 60 percent
of Indians rely on ground water for daily consumption. Water-borne diseases
affect 80 percent of children. In Chennai, the total dissolved solids
are as high as 2000 parts per million (the normal value is 500 ppm). On
December 7, 2000, the Supreme Court reminded the state of its duty to
provide safe drinking water, a right under Article 21 of the Constitution.
are so many Indians sick? Who is responsible for the hopeless state of
our public health system?
There is only one word to describe the health of India’s population
— appalling. India accounts for 21 percent of the global burden
of infectious and parasitic diseases, 30 percent of respiratory infections,
25 percent of nutritional deficiencies. tb kills half a million people
every year. Between 4 million and 14 million Indians are blind. The most
common cause of blindness is cataract. More than half of married Indian
women are anaemic. More than one-third of all deaths take place in children
under five. Forty-seven percent of children under five are chronically
and severely malnourished.
The government of India spends less on health than any other government
in the world. Not only is India’s per capita health expenditure
one of the lowest in the world but the shocking fact is that India ranks
189 out of 192 countries in terms of how much the government spends on
In 2001, it was a mere $14 compared to over $183 in Iran and $60 in Sri
Lanka, according to the World Health Report 2003. In an atmosphere that
strongly favours privatisation, Jaswant Singh’s 2003 budget announced
reduced import duties on medical equipment, greatly benefiting the private
health sector and plush hospitals in the metros. The Chandrababu Naidu
government in Andhra Pradesh launched “health tourism”, converting
hotels into five-star hospitals!