Those fêted food sinks, the many new towns of India
There are inter-related concerns about local needs for food and nutrition. What these cost and for which kinds of consumers, just as much as the ability of households to find and buy affordable food staples, are important matters for us.
They are also matters that continue to be neglected because the coordination this demands is not yet recognised as an outcome, let alone a target, for administrators (and for the private sector whose role in governing, through public-private partnerships and similar arrangements grows ever larger). Although in the name of consultation and planning, the Government of India routinely discusses the need for ‘convergence’ between programmes run by ministries, there is scarcely any.
You will find recently different explorations of this theme in ‘A quickening count, the movement from rural Bharat to urban India’, ‘The 0.05 kilowatt farming human and other strange equations from India’, ‘India Census 2011 – what they use in 330 million homes for light, cooking, drainage and phones’ and in ‘How food took 57% of the rural Indian’s budget’.
The Ministries of Agriculture, Rural Development, Women and Child Development and Health do not come together to examine districts and blocks and tehsils, rather than each through their own lens, to agree on measures that benefit the households who bear the multiple burdens of high food prices, poor access to food, high burdens of communicable diseases and suffer from low health and human development indices.
In its note on ‘Issues for the Approach to the Twelfth Plan’ (2011 April), the Planning Commission said as much: “There is a perception that government programmes, especially centrally sponsored schemes, are not sensitive enough to local needs. Also, government works in silos with little effort to achieve convergence and co-ordination across ministries and between centre and states, even though most problems require inter-governmental and inter-ministerial co-ordination.” Typically, the Planning Commission swallows none of its own advice, so you will find no remedies in the three-volume draft Twelfth Five Tear Plan document.
From a reading of the early results of the 66th Round of the National Sample Survey, ‘Key Indicators of Household Consumer Expenditure in India, 2009-10’, for the urban population, in all income deciles including those that comprise the urban poor, the situation is already grim. Bhiwani in Haryana (population 197,662), Bhind in Madhya Pradesh (197,332), Amroha in Uttar Pradesh (197,135) and Hardoi also in Uttar Pradesh (197,046) are four urban centres whose populations are at the median of those towns in India whose inhabitants number over 100,000.
The average number of children in each (in the 0-6 year age group) is 23,890. Based on the recommended daily dietary allowance calculated for an Indian vegetarian diet by the National Institute of Nutrition, India, the minimum annual demand of each of these four urban centres is: cereals and millets, 43,124 tons; pulses, 9,122 tons; milk and milk products (kilolitres), 33,172; roots and tubers, 22,115 tons; green leafy vegetables, 11,057 tons; other vegetables, 22,115 tons; and fruits, 11,057 tons36. Whether through the lens of municipal services provisioning or as a consumer project, urban administrations rarely plan for the food required by their citizens – its sources, costs and alternatives that can help establish a nutrient cycle between urban consumption and rural producers.
Detailed income distribution estimates for India were described in in the study ‘Human Development in India’ (2010) and revealed quite high income inequality, with a Gini coefficient of 0.54 – or around the same as Brazil (we may both be BRICS countries but Brazil’s Amazon- and minerals-fuelled income inequalities are to be shunned, not emulated). Estimates based on village surveys derive even higher Gini coefficients: on average 0.645 across households and 0.595 across persons even within villages (as recorded in ‘Is India Really a Country of Low Income-Inequality? Observations from Eight Villages”, Review of Agrarian Studies 2011).
This is reinforced now by the latest release of consumption data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the provisional results of household consumer expenditure survey of the NSS 68th round (July 2011 to June 2012). Some salient findings of the survey are: the average household monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) in 2011-12 was estimated at Rs 1,281.45 in rural India and Rs 2,401.68 in urban India. Thus the per capita expenditure level of the urban population was on the average about 87.4% higher than that of the rural population.
The top 10% of the rural population, ranked by MPCE, had an average MPCE of Rs 3,459.77, about 6.9 times that of the bottom 10%. The top 10% of the urban population had an average MPCE of Rs 7,651.68, about 10.9 times that of the bottom 10%. And finally, in urban India, half of the population was living with an MPCE of below Rs 1,759, about 70% of population had an MPCE of above Rs 1,295.