The Politics of Food
CONTINUING famine in rural areas and intermittent food riots in urban centres has been a main spectre of Indian history after independence. Even after twentyfive years of planned development, a considerable section of our population, especially in the rural areas, continues to subsist on bark, leaves, flowers and roots for months together in a year.
Data on expenditure levels, pattern of consumption, and so on, give a vivid account of the extent of hunger in this country. Thus, according to the Dandekar and Rath study,1 in 1960-61, more than 33.12 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of the urban population were facing chronic starvation. They have estimated that in 1961 out of the total 434 million population, 356 million lived in rural and 78 million lived in urban areas. The monthly per capita expenditure was found to be Rs 0-8 per month (27 paise per day) for 6.38 per cent of the rural population, and for another 11.95 per cent it was Rs 8-11. The figures for the corresponding expenditure brackets for the urban population were found to be 2.5 per cent and 5.4 per cent.
Proceeding accordingly it was found that in rural areas more than 60 per cent of the total expenditure is on cereal and starchy food substitutes such as tapioca; and another 18 per cent was on other items of food such as pulses, edible oils and so forth, constituting more than 80 per cent of the expenditure of the lowest expenditure brackets. Now, considering the consumption pattern of this group a few salient facts emerge.
Calculating at the rate of 3.3 calories per gramme of cereal foodgrains, (including substitutes) 616 grammes offoodgrains give 2033 calories per capita per day. Considering that another 20 per cent of the per capita expenditure is on pulses, edible oil, etc, yielding a calory equivalent of 200, the total calory intake is 2250 calories per day per person, which is the rock bottom level for sheer existence according to any