Patna: Around seventy per cent of rural households in Bihar are routinely forced to skip meals due to high levels of poverty, a new study has revealed.
The study by the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi was conducted to assess the effectiveness of the country's largest welfare scheme, the Public Distribution System (PDS), which aims to target the poor by providing basic food and non-food items at below market prices.
"The level of hunger is quite appalling in Bihar as compared to other Indian states," said development economist Jean Dreze, who led the study which looked at nine states in the country.
"Seventy per cent of the total rural populace interviewed told us they had gone to beds with empty stomach several times in the past," Dreze told journalists over the weekend.
Dreze said villagers in other states spoke of hunger levels - 7 per cent in Uttar Pradesh; 16 per cent in Andhra Pradesh; 17 per cent in Chhattisgarh, 9 per cent in Orissa; 26 per cent in Jharkhand; 36 per cent in Rajasthan, but the figures were alarmingly high in Bihar.
India enjoys economic growth of around 8 per cent a year, has its own space programme and plans to spend $50 billion to modernise its military over the next five years.
But despite being Asia's third largest economy, India has around 400 million people who live below the poverty line.
Many people, in states like Bihar, are plagued with poverty and chronic food insecurity, further exacerbated by disasters such as floods, which annually destroy large swathes of farmland, displacing hundreds of thousands.
Dreze said 1,200 poor families were interviewed, many of whom said they had not eaten pulses, fruits, eggs or meat for several weeks.
The PDS, which is supposed to deliver cheap foods to poor rural homes, also has its flaws, according to the study, which revealed that less than half the food grains - about 45 per cent - meant for the poor was actually getting to them.
Under the PDS, federal authorities buy food grains directly from farmers and then allocate it to state governments, which are responsible for selling it to poor families through a network of shops throughout the country.
But there is widespread corruption and the food is often either siphoned off by various operators, from officials to truck drivers and shopkeepers and sold on the black market or left to rot in warehouses due to poor management.