India's Half-Century of Starvation

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Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution may have saved millions in decades prior, but in today's India, 421 million poor citizens have a different tale to tell. 42 percent of children under five are underweight, and the government's assistance programs fall dramatically short of ending hunger.

The governing National Congress Party, however, has begun rethinking the broken infrastructure of aid, The New York Times reports. Party president Sonia Gandhi proposes a constitutional right to food and wants every Indian family to have monthly access to a 77-pound bag of grain, sugar, and kerosene. Others want existing entitlements wiped out and to offer the poor vouchers, potentially spurring on the market.

Either way, India will have to first contend with the institutionalized corruption that has come to define and cripple its nation for decades:

The food system has existed for more than half a century and has become riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Studies show that 70 percent of a roughly $12 billion budget is wasted, stolen or absorbed by bureaucratic and transportation costs. Ms. Gandhi's proposal, still far from becoming law, has been scaled back, for now, so that universal eligibility would initially be introduced only in the country's 200 poorest districts, including here in Jhabua, at the western edge of the state of Madhya Pradesh.

With some of the highest levels of poverty and child malnutrition in the world, Madhya Pradesh underscores the need for change in the food system. Earlier this year, the official overseeing the state's child development programs was arrested on charges of stealing money. In Jhabua, local news media recently reported a spate of child deaths linked to malnutrition in several villages. Investigators later discovered 3,500 fake food ration booklets in the district, believed to have been issued by low-level officials for themselves and their friends.

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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John Hendel is a writer based in Washington, DC, and a former producer at The Atlantic.

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