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India – Rising prices intensify problem of malnourishment among labourers

PUNE: A survey conducted by the city-based Arogya Sena has revealed that 24% of workers in the unorganised sectors are malnourished. The instance of malnourishment among women working in agriculture fields on a daily wage basis is as high as 47%.

The results of the survey, conducted last year, have recently been released. The survey sought to assess the impact of rising food prices on the diet of daily wage labourers.

“The current scenario of continuing inflation of food prices raises a serious concern about food and the nutritional security of the poor. The continuous rise in food prices has eroded the purchasing power of the workers of the unorganised sector,” said cardiologist Abhijit Vaidya, national chief of Arogya Sena, a voluntary organisation that works for the health rights of the common man.

Workers of the unorganised sector are worst hit because food, to begin with, has always been unaffordable for them and higher prices have only made things worse, said Vaidya.

The survey was conducted on 311 people divided into six groups for purposes of study. The first group comprised of 48 male labourers from Maldhakka chowk. The second were 50 male labourers from Timber market. The third group constituted 72 labourers (24 male and 48 female) from Market Yard and the fourth and fifth group comprised of 52 labourers from Dhankawdi iron market and 57 women labourers. The last group studied was an all-women labourer group (32) from the agriculture fields in Bhandgaon (Pune-Solapur road).

“We have found that an unorganised worker spends 49.6% of his income on food-related items. But despite this, the average calorie intake of a labourer is just 1,137.8 calories a day, which is too little,” said Vaidya.

The main components of their meals usually are chappati or bhakri, rice, cereals and vegetables. Non vegetarian and dairy products are rarely eaten.

Explaining the present definition of the poverty line, Vaidya said the government has pegged it on a monthly income of Rs 434 for an individual.

“It is presumed that this is the amount required for a person to get a required intake of 2,100 calories a day. In this definition, it was wrongly considered that the urban poor spend their entire earnings only on the purchase of food items. And virtually no consideration was given to the expenditure incurred on shelter, clothes, health, education etc,” Vaidya explained.

The current average income of an urban labourer is around Rs 1,100 a month. On this, he cannot fulfil his daily food requirement of 2,100 calories, even if he spends his entire monthly income on food-related items. The reason for this is that food prices are constantly rising,” said Vaidya.

There is no doubt the urban poor has enjoyed some increase in income as a result of high economic growth and liberalisation of the economy. Yet, a vast majority of them living in rural areas are dependent on meagre incomes from agriculture and low-productivity jobs from non-agricultural activities, which rise and fall with the ebb and flow of precarious events.

“There is an urgent need on the part of the government to strengthen the rationing system. And, at the same time, the government must see to it that all food-related items are being made available to the urban poor at the cheapest rates possible,” said Vaidya. If the poor remain underfed, it would be impossible to tap their potential to accelerate growth, he added.

“We will present the survey report to Bhalchandra Mungekar, a member of the planning commission in the first week of May. A copy will also be sent to the chief minister of the state for discussion in their cabinet,” Vaidya said.

Source – Times of India

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