ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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From Calorie Fundamentalism to Cereal Accounting

Utsa Patnaik's new critique of our work on food and nutrition is wholly unconvincing. Her analysis of international patterns of "total" cereal consumption, interesting as it may be, does not invalidate anything we wrote, and certainly does not indict us of any "fallacies". And her attempt to demonstrate that the decline of cereal intake in India reflects "severe demand-deflation for the majority of the population" is based on a circular argument.

Nutrition, Poverty and Calorie Fundamentalism: Response to Utsa Patnaik

Utsa Patnaik's critique ("A Critical Look at Some Propositions on Consumption and Poverty", 6 February 2010) of the authors' earlier paper on food and nutrition ("Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations", 14 February 2009) does not stand up to scrutiny. She claims that the observed decline in calorie intake at given levels of real per capita expenditure is an illusion due to faulty price indexes, but does not offer any evidence that the consumer price index actually underestimates cost of living increases. Patnaik's "alternative deflator" and "direct poverty lines" are devoid of any convincing rationale. The charge of miscalculations in the original paper is incorrect, and reflects a misunderstanding of what was done.

Food and Nutrition in India: Facts and Interpretations

This paper reviews recent evidence on food intake and nutrition in India. It attempts to make sense of various puzzles, particularly the decline of average calorie intake during the last 25 years. This decline has occurred across the distribution of real per capita expenditure, in spite of increases in real income and no long-term increase in the relative price of food. One hypothesis is that calorie requirements have declined due to lower levels of physical activity or improvements in the health environment. If correct, this does not imply that there are no calorie deficits in the Indian population - nothing could be further from the truth. These deficits are reflected in some of the worst anthropometric indicators in the world, and the sluggish rate of improvement of these indicators is of major concern. Yet recent trends remain confused and there is an urgent need for better nutrition monitoring.

Price Trends in India and Their Implications for Measuring Poverty

National Sample Survey data on the unit values of a large number of foods can be used to compute price index numbers that can be compared with the official national price indices, the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labourers for rural India, and the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers for urban India. This paper finds that over the five years from 1999-2000 to 2004-05, the food component of the cpial understated the rate of food price inflation. This understatement can be attributed to the use of long outdated weights (from 1983), and the resultant over-weighting of cereals, whose prices fell relative to other foods. The overall weight of food in the cpial is also too large, so that the growth in the general cpial was understated during this period when food prices fell relative to non-food prices. Under conservative assumptions, the paper calculates that the five-year growth in the reported cpial of 10.6 per cent should have been 14.3 per cent. The nominal poverty lines are also understated. As a result, and ignoring other problems with the counts, the official poverty ratio of 28.3 per cent for rural India in 2004-05 should be closer to 31 per cent; at current rates of rural poverty reduction, this eliminates more than three years of progress.

Health Care Delivery in Rural Rajasthan

This paper reports on a survey conducted in rural Udaipur to gauge the delivery of health care and the impact it has on the health status of the largely poor population of the region. The study shows that the quality of public service is extremely low and that unqualified private providers account for the bulk of health care provision. The low quality of public facilities has also had an adverse influence on the people's health. In an environment where people's expectations of health care providers seem to be generally low, the state has to take up the task of being the provider or regulator.

Prices and Poverty in India, 1987-2000

Using consumption data from the 43rd, 50th and 55th rounds of the National Sample Survey, this paper computes for each of the large Indian states, by urban and rural sectors separately, a range of consumer prices indexes for 1999-2000 relative to 1993-94 and for 1993-94 relative to 1987-88. The main focus of the paper is to explain the methodology underlying the new price indexes and to incorporate them into poverty lines.

Adjusted Indian Poverty Estimates for 1999-2000

This paper explains a method that can be used to adjust the NSS 55th Round poverty estimates so as to make them comparable with earlier official estimates. After presenting the adjusted head-count ratios for all-India and each of the large states, for both urban and rural sectors, the author turns to some broader issues about poverty monitoring in India, including those raised by the non-comparability of estimates that is his main topic but looking further to issues of future survey design and the choice of poverty lines.

Poverty and Inequality in India

This paper presents a new set of integrated poverty and inequality estimates for India and Indian states for 1987-88, 1993-94 and 1999-2000. The poverty estimates are broadly consistent with independent evidence on per capita expenditure, state domestic product and real agricultural wages. They show that poverty decline in the 1990s proceeded more or less in line with earlier trends. Regional disparities increased in the 1990s, with the southern and western regions doing much better than the northern and eastern regions. Economic inequality also increased within states, especially within urban areas, and between urban and rural areas. We briefly examine other development indicators, relating for instance to health and education. Most indicators have continued to improve in the nineties, but social progress has followed very diverse patterns, ranging from accelerated progress in some fields to slow down and even regression in others. We find no support for sweeping claims that the nineties have been a period of 'unprecedented improvement' or 'widespread impoverishment'.

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