Chronic poverty is not a new phenomenon in India and many people are on the margin of subsistence even today. The message to learn is that we need a better system of social security. Some social security schemes are already in place. For instance, there are pension schemes for widows and the elderly, nutrition programmes for children, and public health services. But all these schemes could do much better to ensure that no one suffers from hunger and starvation.
Take, for example, the National Old Age Pension Scheme (NOAPS). The Centre’s contribution has stagnated at a paltry Rs 200 per month for more than 12 years. NOAPS is a good scheme, with low leakages and administrative costs. But the Centre is deliberately undermining NOAPS in favour of contributory pension schemes that are of little use to the poorest. In the mid-day meal scheme, serving eggs is the best thing that has happened in a long time. Indian children are among the most malnourished in the world. And eggs are nutritious, affordable and safe; they also help to boost school attendance. Yet, there are just a dozen states in the country which serve eggs on some days under MDM.