India is often called a sub-continent because of its size and population, but it is much more complex than a sub-continent. The religious, linguistic and cultural diversity amongst its 900 million people is truly mind-boggling. Apart from the birth place of Hinduism and Buddhism, it has people from almost all the religions of the world. It has the second largest Muslim population in the world and some of its states are predominantly Christian. There are 18 languages recognised by the Indian constitution and there are hundreds of other languages and directs. India's cultural diversity needs hardly any mention. Above all, it is a highly vibrant democracy with a vigorous free press. Policies have to, therefore, take into consideration pulls and pressures from various quarters. While this makes it difficult to take decisions which are perceived to have potential for creating controversies, it also allows non-optimum use of available resources. Population control policies or targetisation of public distribution system are some of the examples, even though these and such other policies have serious implications for household food security. The continuing population explosion is marginalising all the socio-economic development achieved by the country and nowhere it is reflected as prominently as in the case of removal of poverty.
In a country of the size and complexities like India, having low per capita incomes and around 60 million households living below poverty line (defined in terms of certain minimum calorie intake), it is necessary to first remove the spectre of famines, raw hunger and starvation altogether, then move to food security for all households and finally achieve total food and nutrition security for all, which only will enable each and every individual to lead an active and healthy life and attain his or her full potential.
In this presentation, more emphasis has been, therefore, given to production, availability and consumption of cereals, which are known to contribute around 70 percent of the energy and protein requirement and which happen to be the first objective to be attained by a poor household. The production, availability and consumption of pulses and other foodstuffs as also all the nutrients has also been examined to see the position of availability of staple and balanced diets. The concept of food security, the global scenario, the norms against which consumption of food and nutrition is to be examined and the evolution of food policy has, of course, proceeded such examination, as a brief discussion of these was felt necessary to put things in correct perspective. Since poverty is central to food and nutrition 'insecurity' and unemployment and lack of assets breeds poverty, these issues and programmes to alleviate poverty have also been discussed in some detail. In India, public distribution system has played a great role in substantially improving the household food security and logically a detailed examination of this programme as also needed reforms also merited attention. Programmes that attack malnutrition directly have also been examined. A chapter has been devoted to examine the consumption of cereals, pulses, other foodstuffs as also the trends in consumption of these and intake of all nutrients. The available data has been examined both at macro level, as also to find out the disaggregated picture in various states and for various income groups. I must confess that while undertaking this exercise, I have viewed the food and nutrition security scenario in India through the eyes of a practicing administrator and it may, therefore, fall short of the expectations of nutrition experts. I do, however, hope that readers will find this work useful in its own way.
As brought out in the concluding chapter, India seems to have achieved a fairly high degree of food security, at least if limited to staple food. The spurt in foodgrains production and its stability at the fairly high levels has resulted in almost cent percent satisfaction levels when requirement and availability of cereals are compared. A breakthrough also seem to have been achieved in the production of milk, eggs, fish etc. The biggest achievement lies in banishing famines and hunger and development of capacity to fully meet any fluctuations due to droughts and natural calamities. The way the challenge posed by the 1987 drought, considered one of the severeest in the century, was met, illustrates this. It is also creditable that inspite of burgeoning population, the nutritional status of people has not only been maintained but there has been substantial improvement in nutritional status of severely malnourished pre-school age children. India seems to have won the first phase of battle against hunger and undernourishment but the second phase of battle will be a much bigger challenge; that of assuring a healthy and active life for all households and for every member within the household.
I am extremely grateful to the Asia Pacific Regional Office of the FAD-UN for offering me this opportunity and allowing me to gainfully utilize the five year's experience I acquired in managing the food economy of the country as Joint Secretary in the Union Ministry of Food at New Delhi. Of course, writing this has been, in itself, a great learning process for me because nutritional well being of people is a highly complex subject with cross linkages and underlying influences amongst almost all the sectors of the socio-economic development of the country. I had to rely very much on the data and information available in various Ministries, Departments and Institutions. As far as consumption data is concerned, I depended heavily on the surveys conducted by the National Nutrition Monitaring Bureau (NNMB). The data on monthly consumer expenditure, collected by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) was also utilized. The information regarding production and availability of various foodstuffs was obtained from the Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Food and their specialised divisions. I visited NIN and would like to place on record my profound gratitude to Dr. (Mrs.) Vinodini Reddy, the Director and her colleagues with whom I had long discussions over two days. I also visited some areas in western and hilly regions of Uttar Pradesh and some villages of nearby Haryana to update my earlier, field experience. A visit to desert areas around Jaisalmare in Rajasthan turned out to be very informative as far as working of the Revamped Public Distribution System was concerned. I am also grateful to a number of officers in Ministries of Food, Agriculture, Rural Development and Health and Family Welfare as also of the Food Corporation of India and the Central Warehousing Corporation who spared their time to discuss various issues having a bearing on their respective organisations and also for allowing me access to their libraries. My grateful thanks are also due to many friends, whom I am unable to mention individually due to their numbers, in government, universities and institutions for frank discussions and exchange of views. It will not be fair if I do not mention the contribution made by my daughter, Swati, who with her computer expertise, helped me in researching and analysing the literature and data and also extended various other assistance.