Smriti Irani gets tutored on the Global Hunger Index by a doctor on X

Three graphs were presented to the union minister, who has been mercilessly trolled over the past two days for calling the index ‘hogwash’

Union minister Smriti Irani (photo: National Herald archives)
Union minister Smriti Irani (photo: National Herald archives)

AJ Prabal

Addressing a FICCI women’s forum in Hyderabad, Smriti Irani said, “I think that they are indices which do not project the India story, and deliberately so. For instance, (the) Global Hunger Index that makes headlines now. Many a people have said it is all hogwash. How do they build that index? 3,000 people in a country of 140 crore get a phone call from Gallup and they are asked: ‘Are you hungry?’

“Now trust me, I have left my house at Delhi in the morning at 4 am today, I caught a flight at 5 am to go to Kochi, I did a conclave there [hosted by Malyalam Manorama, which apparently did not offer the minister lunch], caught a flight at 5 pm to come to this programme; by the time I get to anything called food, it will be 10 o' clock. If you’ve called me at any time of the day today from Gallup and asked, ‘Are you hungry?’, I’ll say, ‘Oh yes, I am'."

Irani laughed. The ladies in the audience also laughed, and laughed louder when she said, “The index says Pakistan is better…”

The widely circulated video clip predictably drew derisive comments on the minister’s ignorance or her ‘ignorance of ignorance’.

The Global Hunger Index is a peer-reviewed annual report, jointly published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe, and tracks hunger at the global, regional and country levels.

With a score of 28.7, India has a level of hunger categorised as 'serious' and is ranked 111 out of 125 countries in the index. Pakistan, which has performed a little better than India, is ranked at 102. Bangladesh (81st), Nepal (69th) and Sri Lanka (60th) fare better.

India’s ranking has been slipping on the index over the past few years and the Government of India has rubbished the report and the ranking every time, describing it as erroneous and flawed.

Irani herself had trashed the index in Parliament in 2021, and had been criticised for not being well-informed. This time her ignorance—or ‘ignorance of ignorance’—did not go down unchallenged and she has been relentlessly mocked and trolled for claiming that even she was hungry that day!  

DMK MP Kanimozhi on Saturday, 21 October, posted a video of Irani’s comments on X and said it was painful to see the union minister mock the Global Hunger Index without understanding its implications. “This raises serious questions about the competency of the BJP government in addressing malnutrition, inadequate food distribution and child mortality,” the MP said.

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate also posted Irani’s video on X and said: “I don’t know what’s more shameful -- your level of ignorance or your insensitivity at display here?”

Shiv Sena leader Priyanka Chaturvedi shared the video and wrote: “Hardly having time to eat = Hardly having food to eat. If arrogance had a face, it would be Mantriji.”

It was, however, left to a doctor on X (formerly Twitter) to comprehensively call the minister’s bluff.

Asserting that as a citizen and a doctor, he felt ashamed at the minister’s ignorance, he pointed out that India is the only country among 125 nations to have rejected the index.

Worse, India is the only country which refused to release official data about malnourishment and the under-nourished population.

The doctor went on to explain that the index is based on four parameters, and uses the government’s own data.

It is only in the case of the fourth parameter that, in addition to the government data, random phone calls were made, possibly to gather people’s perception about hunger and the hungry.

While just 1,000 calls each were made to 124 of the 125 countries, as many as 3,000 calls were made in India to account for its size. The calls were made by the UNICEF, the doctor claimed.

The doctor’s posts explained the following:

Each country’s GHI score is calculated based on a formula that combines four indicators that together capture the multidimensional nature of hunger:

  1. Undernourishment: The share of the population whose caloric intake is insufficient.

  2. Child stunting: This indicates low height-for-age. In India, more than 35 per cent of children are stunted.

  3. Child wasting: If a country has more than 15 per cent of children are 'wasted', an acute form of malnourishment indicating low weight-for-height, it is cause for concern.

  4. Proportion of undernourishment in the population: With about 16.6 per cent of overall populated undernourished, India’s level of undernourishment has been marked 'medium risk', but with prevalence of anaemia in more than 50 per cent among the females (15 to 24 years of age), one of the highest in the world.

Only the fourth indicator, the proportion of undernourished population (POU), is calculated based in part on telephonic calls.

The POU is determined by two subcomponents:

1. Food balance sheets: It takes into account average per capita availability of food. This data is furnished by the Govt of India.

2. Calorific requirement: Calculated at the population level, which too is to be given by the Govt of India.

The government, however, has not released the relevant report for 2017–18 (we only have the old 2011 report). That’s why 3,000 telephonic interviews were done for this one index and that too by UNICEF. For other countries only 1,000 telephonic calls done. For India, it was amped up due to our huge population.

Union minister Smriti Irani heads the women and child development department, responsible for the nutrition of children and women in the country. One would hope these figures and processes would be on her radar regularly.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines