Levying GST on essential food items will only further add to severe malnutrition levels among poor
As per UNICEF, India has 5,772,472 children below 5 years affected by severe wasting —most in the world. It called the situation an ‘overlooked child survival emergency’ in its May 2022 child alert
In the 2021 Global Hunger Index (GHI) report, India ranked 101st out of 116 countries. With a score of 27.5, India falls into the category of serious level of hunger. According to the GHI, a score of ≤ 9.9 is considered to be low, 10.0–19.9 moderate, 20.0–34.9 serious, 35.0–49.9 alarming, ≥ 50.0 extremely alarming. That we are at a serious level of hunger is a cause of concern for us. It requires pro-active planning to ensure nutrition to all the citizens.
The report pointed out that the number of malnourished people increased globally by 15 crore i.e. 24.3%. In 2019, the number of malnourished was 61.8 crore while it increased 76.8 crore in 2021.
The Hunger Index is based on three criteria: Inadequate food supply, child mortality and child under-nutrition. The report also points out that 1/4th of the total malnourished in the world live in India. This is at a time when our country is aspiring to be a global leader in economic development with a $5 trillion economy.
Supply of balanced food to all the citizens of the country is a basic requirement to reduce malnutrition. A balanced diet means sufficient proteins, fats, carbohydrates and micro-nutrients in the form of vitamins and minerals.
Prestigious medical journal Lancet had formed a committee to go into nutritional requirements of a person. It has suggested intake of 232 grams of whole grain, 50 grams of tubers or starchy vegetables like potato, 300 grams of vegetables, 200 grams of fruits, 250 grams dairy food, 250 grams of protein sources in the form of meat, egg, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, 50 grams saturated and unsaturated oils 30 grams of sugar.
At the present market prices, the cost of these food items per person comes to be around Rs 225 per day. This means that a family of five members should spend R 1125 per day or Rs 33750 per month on food only.
Barring a miniscule population, our people are far from this target. The government’s scheme to give 5 kg of grains and one kg daal and a bit of oil does not fulfil the nutritional requirements. It is just not enough even for proper sustenance. It does not at all meet the requirements of micro nutrients like vitamins and minerals essential for physical and mental growth.
With 15 crore people out of a population of 23 crore in Uttar Pradesh queuing up to get this much ration free of cost is a projection of extremely dismal state of affairs of nutritional security.
It is imperative that the purchasing capacity of the people is raised through poverty alleviation, sufficient wages and means of livelihood to enable citizens to meet their requirement of quality food. Several economic experts including Nobel laureate Abhijeet Banerjee have suggested several means to alleviate poverty.
Recent economic surveys have pointed out that 90% of our population earns less than Rs.10000 per month. A balanced diet for them is only a dream which does not seem to come true in the present circumstances. By imposing taxes on essential food items, the cost of filling the belly is bound to increase.
The wages on the other hand are showing a downward trend as employment is shifting to contractual labour, which gives no job security or any employment benefits like provident fund or ESI. The small scale sector which provides livelihood to a large number of people is at the receiving end under the Modi govt’s neoliberal economic policies.
To meet the requirements of 2300 calories and a healthy food and clothing for a young adult, various workers organizations have demanded minimum wage based on the principle of these caloric needs. They have demanded a minimum wage of Rs 21000 per month. But to everyone’s utter dismay, the government announced a floor level wage as Rs 178 per day or Rs 5340 per month. This is despite an internal labour ministry committee recommending Rs 375 per day.
This is even against the Supreme Court ruling on workers’ demand for Rs.650 per day wage, wherein it added a further 25% for health and education.
The government’s intention to introduce time-based work wages will be detrimental economically as well as against the medical advice and health needs of a person.
A majority of the population in our country is in the unorganised sector where the legal formulations are hardly implemented. The farmers and agriculture labour are among the worst sufferers. Agriculture labourers face oppression, economic as well as social. Farmers protested against the farm laws fearing these will not only adversely affect their economic conditions but even the food security of citizens too will be compromised.
As per the UNICEF, India has 5,772,472 children below five years affected by severe wasting — the most in the world. The global body called the situation an ‘overlooked child survival emergency’ in its May 2022 child alert. Severe wasting, also known as severe acute malnutrition, is defined as low weight-for-height.
It is therefore imperative that essential food items come within the reach of low socio-economic groups. Wages for all sections need to be revised as per the caloric needs, balanced diet, clothing, health, education and housing at the present prices. In this context, the GST levied on food and other day to day need items must be withdrawn to prevent further malnutrition.
Views are personal