20 pc population in India malnourished

FAO data says intake cut to 1,800 kilo calories per person

Around 212 million people in India, comprising over 20 per cent of the population, suffer from malnourishment.

The figure was sourced from the latest estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said noted water expert and Tamil Nadu Planning Commission member P M Natarajan.

Citing the FAO figures in a recent paper submitted at the Indian Science Congress in Kolkata, Natarajan pointed out that 50 per cent of the children in rural areas suffer from malnutrition. Twenty-one per cent of the affected children suffer from “severe malnutrition.”

Though the Tendulkar committee report had put the number of people below the poverty line at 29.90 per cent of the population as against the 2004-05 figure of 37.20 per cent, Natarajan said the committee has now switched to a “single norm of minimum calorie intake to decide the official poverty line.”

Previously, daily food intake recommended per person was 2,100 kilo calories in areas urban and 2,400 kilo calories in rural areas. This was reduced by the Tendulkar committee to 1,800 kilo calories per person per day, Natarajan said, adding that an individual requires to consume at least 3,000 kilo calories per day for a healthy life. However, the NSS survey had revealed that an average Indian consumed less than 2,047 kilo calories per day during 2004-05, he pointed out.

Speaking about the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, which, among others, aim at reducing by half the number of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, Natarajan said: “It will not be possible for India to achieve these goals without water and food security.”

He added that “India’s elite should show a positive way” by reaching a consensus on “inter-basin transfer of surplus waters,” which is likely to cost around Rs 5.6 lakh crore. “By utilising 50 per cent of the unutilised water resources for irrigation, we can generate an income of about Rs 1.5 lakh crore per annum through agriculture and pisciculture,” Natarajan said, adding that the money spent could be recovered in about three years.  

Stating that India was one of the few countries with ample water resources, Natarajan stated in his paper that even if 50 per cent of the unutilised water every year was diverted for irrigation, the country could “generate an employment potential of 50 million farm workforce per annum easily.”

“No industry on earth can generate as much employment as the agriculture sector. If that happenes, migration of farmers and farm labourers to urban areas could be reduced. Besides, number of water refugees would also come down. This will also arrest farmer suicides in our country,” he added. “Even going by the Water Resources Ministry’s figures, by creation of an additional irrigation potential by using the unutilised waters, that otherwise flow into the sea, about 7,564 tmc ft of additional groundwater recharge per annum could be generated,” Natarajan claimed.

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