Blog author: jballor
by on Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The conflicting images I spoke about last week, the obesity of poor children in America, are the subject of a weekend piece in the NYT, “India Prosperity Creates Paradox; Many Children Are Fat, Even More Are Famished.”

Of course, in India these aren’t the same kids: by and large the poor ones aren’t the fat ones. Someni Sengupta writes, “In short, while new money and new foods transform the eating habits of some of India’s youngest citizens, gnawing destitution continues to plague millions of others. Taken together, it is a picture of plenty and want, each producing its own set of afflictions.”

The social problems are accompanied by the requisite calls to expand inadequate government programs. “In a rare rebuke, the Supreme Court of India this month ordered the government to expand swiftly the number of nutrition programs in the country. The programs now serve around 46 million children, at least on paper.”

Here’s a sample of what one of these programs looks like in practice.

One morning in a destitute rural district called Barabanki about 300 miles northwest of here, a dozen small children, most of them barefoot, some of them barely clothed, lined up for help at a program known as Integrated Child Development Services.

On this morning, every child received a scoop of dry cereal, a bland mixture of wheat, sugar and soy that is called panjiri in Hindi.

Some brought a plastic bag to hold their gift. Others made a bowl with the dirty end of whatever they wore. They sat on the ground and shoveled the food into their mouths.

Mothers in this village said the dry ration cereal sometimes made their children sick. No cooked food was available at this center. The center was also supposed to dispense vitamin-fortified oil to the villagers, but they said it rarely came.

These don’t seem to be practices that place a premium on human dignity or instilling self-sufficiency, but are rather based on perpetuating dependency on government.


  • Divesh Adnani

    Well people below poverty line with no education can’t be expected to be independent; of course they are dependent on the government and society at large. Its the duty of the government to ensure that the people of the country get the basic level of nutrition and education. The Indian government has many schemes like The mid day meal, Integrated child development scheme,etc. The country is also signatory to many international treaties and i for one dis agree that the government does not place a premium on human dignity, in fact we realize that our population is our major strength and thats the primary reason that we will make a much larger impact to the world economy than most other upcoming economies. The problem is not commitment but its the mechanism of implementation that needs correction, its the state and central governments imperative that foodgrains overflowing in godowns reached the starving people and not wasted by being dumped in the sea or eaten by rats. Policy implementation is as important policy formation, or infact even more.