My friend, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (MSA), Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission that has the responsibility of planning our future, is a very intelligent person. There is abundant evidence of his IQ being sky-high.
Unfortunately, an intelligent person is not necessarily well informed. For example, MSA does not seem to be aware that we have a scientific organisation called the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which also happens to be the oldest research body in India and one of the oldest in the world. It was set up as the Imperial Research Fund Association in 1911. The Director-General of ICMR is also the Secretary of the Department of Health Research in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The flagship laboratory of ICMR is the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) located in Hyderabad. This institution has from time to time brought out tables of minimum nutritional requirements of Indians. The last publication in this series appeared in 2010 and was titled “National Requirements and Recommended Dietary Allowance for India.” It is used as a reference book all over the world.
According to this publication, the minimum requirements of a moderately active man are 400 gm of cereals, 300 gm of vegetables, 100 gm of fruits, 30 gm of oil, 80 gm of pulses and 40 gm of sugar. In Hyderabad, which is nowhere near the costliest city in the country, the above will cost, as of today, on average, Rs.12.88, 5.22, 2.50, 1.95, 5.60 and 1.52 totalling Rs. 29.67.
MSA has said, even in a submission to the Supreme Court, that if a person spends Rs.32 in an urban area (and Rs. 26 in a rural area) a day on all his requirements, he is not poor. What I have said in the preceding para means that if a person living in an urban area takes care just of his minimum nutritional requirements (with ice cream, cake, laddu and the like totally out of bounds), he would be left with Rs.32 minus Rs.29.67 = Rs.2.33 a day (Rs.69.90 per month or approximately Rs.839 per year) to take care of his requirements of salt and spices, fuel for cooking, house rent, milk, footwear, clothing, transport, education of children, and health care, leave aside any entertainment or even a cup of tea or coffee. Would any reader agree that even for the thriftiest, it is possible to meet the above expenditure with Rs.2.33 a day — Rs.69.90 per month — anywhere in the country? A bus pass for one person for one month in Hyderabad costs Rs.555 (Rs.18.50 a day).
As there is no questioning MSA's intelligence, there is only one conclusion that we can arrive at: that he is unaware of the existence of ICMR, NIN or its publication.
(The writer is a former Vice-Chairman, National Knowledge Commission and Founder-Director, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. His email ID is firstname.lastname@example.org)