By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Patna
It's argued that rats are a good source of nutrition
An official in the Indian state of Bihar has come up with a new idea to encourage low caste poor people to cope with food shortages - rat meat.
The Principal Secretary of the state's Welfare Department, Vijay Prakash, said that he was advancing his proposal after "much survey and ground work".
Bihar's extremely poor Musahar community are rat-eaters by tradition.
The Musahar are on the bottom strata of the caste system with the lowest literacy rate and per capita income.
Less than one percent of their 2.3 million population in Bihar is literate and 98% are landless.
Mr Prakash says his proposals to popularise rat meat eating are intended to uplift their social-economic condition.
"There are twin advantages of this proposal. First, we can save about half of our food grain stocks by catching and eating rats and secondly we can improve the economic condition of the Musahar community," he told the BBC.
According to Mr Prakash, about 50% of total food grain stocks in the country are eaten away by rodents.
He argues that by promoting rat eating more grain will be preserved while hunger among the Musahar community will be reduced.
He said that rat meat is not only a delicacy but a protein-enriched food, widely popular in Thailand and France.
"Rats have almost no bones and are quite rich in nutrition. People at large don't know this cuisine fact but gradually they are catching up."
However he may find it difficult to popularise such a strategy in a conservative society like Bihar and other north Indian states.
Mr Prakash says that he has recipes to make rat eating a delicacy, which he now wants to distribute to all the hotels in Bihar.
He also wants to encourage rat farming in the same way that poultry is farmed.
While eating rat meat is still stigmatised in urban areas of the country, Mr Prakash says that his research has revealed that it is a popular food item in some parts of Bihar where it is known at roadside hotels by the name of "patal-bageri".
This is not the first time that the department secretary has come out with such an innovative idea.
Earlier, he proposed to recruit eunuchs as security guards to maternity wards in hospitals.
"Yes, that proposal is in its advance stage and we'll very soon engage them in various social activities of our department," he said.
And the welfare secretary's next plan?
"I'll make snake catching popular for the economic value of its venom," he said.