For once, an official entity hasn’t played to the official gallery. As India lunges from one challenge to another, hunger and ‘gender bias’ ~ is ‘inequality’ a more apt expression? ~ are ever so forbidding if the latest report crafted by Niti Aayog is any indication.

The twin challenges have indeed thwarted the official endeavour to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Yet it must be a sobering thought that Niti Aayog, the entity created by the BJP-led NDA dispensation to replace the Planning Commission, has crafted a remarkably objective report that doesn’t quite sweep reality under the carpet.

India is one of the 193 countries that have pledged to alleviate poverty, hunger and gender inequality by 2030. Actually, however, the country wallows in the three-fold mire. If the consummation can be attained, it will rank as a seminal achievement of the forthcoming decade. It is once again a sobering thought that India’s score in terms of all the SDG goalposts has improved from 57 in 2018 to 60 in 2019. That must be tempered by the fact that the overall “country score” is below 50 on these two crucial parameters.

It is imperative, therefore, for governments at the Centre and in the states to be riveted to addressing the societal canker that permeates the system, also of course in addition to healthcare and education. Not the least because 35 per cent of children below 5 years of age are stunted and still more alarmingly, 33 per cent aged below 4 are underweight.

Both stunted growth ~ an unavoidable contradiction in terms ~ and low body weight are the direct outcomes of hunger, when not malnutrition and starvation. It hardly needs emphasis that such fundamentals cry out for greater attention, more urgently than playing to the citizens’ gallery 72 years after the country was partitioned.

Not wholly unrelated to hunger is the wastage of food. Nearly 40 per cent of the fruit and vegetables and 30 per cent of cereals are lost because of shoddy management of the supply chain in which the middleman is known to play a pivotal role. The irony can be bitter ~ prices soar while the product doesn’t reach the market.

The public distribution system is scarcely a remedy; as often as not, foodgrain earmarked for the PDS outlets have made a round trip to the open market, there to be sold at inflated prices. Distressing no less is the gender factor. The Niti Aayog report has few bouquets to offer on the three parameters ~ increasing crimes against women, declining participation of the “female labour force”, and the gender wage gap, which ranges from 50 to75 per cent in certain sectors. In the overall ranking of states, West Bengal, which has been ranked eighth, will need to pull its socks up. The southern states have distinctly fared better with Kerala at the top, followed by Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana. In a word, the Niti Aayog report reaffirms the thesis of “Poor Economics”, advanced by Nobel Laureates Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee and Esther Duflo.