Food crisis, administrative response and public action : some general implications from the Kalahandi issue
Kalahandi district in Western Orissa has received extensive media attention in recent years in
connection with reports of starvation deaths, child sales and Government neglect. This thesis
attempts to identify the roots of hunger in Kalahandi and strategies implemented by people in
the district to cope with this problem. It also analyses the performance of Government
interventions implemented between 1985 and 1991 designed to promote food security,
locating this analysis in a longer historical context.
The study uses data collected over a seven month fieldwork period during 1992.
Details of Government programmes were obtained through semi-structured interviews with
Government officers and elected representatives at national and regional level. Published
and unpublished Government data is used to construct time-series for variations in cropping
patterns and production for a wide range of crop types over the period 1960 to 1988. Public
responses to hunger and public opinion of state interventions are examined through semistructured
individual and group interviews in five villages in different parts of the district.
This thesis argues that the persistence of hunger in Kalahandi cannot be directly
attributed to the failure of the Government to direct adequate finance and resources to relief
and development programmes. It suggests that Government officers have at their disposal a
wide range of well-formulated provisions to protect the vulnerable. However a range of
factors limit the effectiveness of state interventions when guidelines come to be implemented
in practice. In a wider context this study highlights the important role which NonGovernmental
Organisations (N.G.O.'s), the media and the law courts may play in promoting
food security; and the need to strengthen cooperation between the public, the administration
and other key actors, including politicians and N.G.O.'s, in designing and administering
measures to combat hunger.