India's people are eating less now than they did two decades ago, even after record economic growth and bumper harvests. Children die. Adults linger in a nutritional purgatory. Food rots in warehouses stuffed with record crops. Politicians and criminal gangs loot billions of dollars of food aid from the system. Government ministers deny there's a problem. In a year-long investigation, Bloomberg reporters drove thousands of miles to interview the parents of children killed by hunger, a murderer-turned-whistleblower, politicians, investigators, aid workers and doctors.
India’s only government program to nourish as many as 160 million children under six has failed those from Kaushambhi district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, and tens of millions of others around the country.
It was 1958, my father was still a child, and India was running out of food. That year’s wheat crop had slumped by 15 percent, the rice harvest by 12 percent, and prices in the markets were soaring. Far from his village in eastern India, ships laden with wheat were steaming toward the country, part of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s plan to sell surplus grains, tobacco and dairy products to friendly countries. All India Radio gave daily updates on the convoys, and the army barricaded ports in Mumbai and Kolkata against the hungry crowds.
Ram Kishen, 52, half-blind and half- starved, holds in his gnarled hands the reason for his hunger: a tattered card entitling him to subsidized rations that now serves as a symbol of India’s biggest food heist.
The death certificate for 3-year-old Rashid Ahmed hides more than it reveals. It lists his name, misspells his mother’s and says he died of malaria. What it doesn’t say is how little he weighed when he was brought to hospital with the disease in New Delhi one August night, how his ribs jutted from his chest, or how helpless his doctor, 28-year-old Gyvi Gaurav, was in trying to save him.
India’s system of distributing food to the poor isn’t corrupt, according to Food Minister K.V. Thomas, who rejected findings by the World Bank, Supreme Court and news investigations that rampant theft is depriving as many as 160 million families of nourishment.
The lobby of Tokyo’s majestic Imperial Hotel was people-watching central last weekend. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, whisked by with 20 television cameras in tow. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble zoomed by moments later with even greater hysteria. Next came Australian Treasurer Wayne Swan, Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, Indian Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and other notables on hand for the IMF’s annual meeting.
India is caught in an ugly societal whodunit: Although the per capita gross domestic product for the country’s 1.2 billion people has almost doubled over the past decade, to $838, malnutrition and hunger are still rampant, especially among children.