Jun 19, 2010

The Hunger Scam: Removing malnutrition with Rs 4 to Rs 6 per day per beneficiary

This is shocking indeed. This is simply scandalous. This should go as India's biggest hunger scam.

In a country where a large number of more than 150 million children below the age of six live in economic and social environment which impedes child's mental and physical development, and where as per UNICEF 47 per cent children under the age of five are stunted, India provides a paltry support, not enough even to fill the stomach of your pet puppy what to talk of meeting its nutrition needs, to malnourished children and nursing mothers.

The Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) was launched in 1975 with the objective to target the most vulnerable groups of population including children below the age of six, pregnant women and nursing mothers, belonging to poorest of the poor families. The objective is to provide a minimum of 300 calories to children below the age of six, 500 calories to adolescent girls, 500 calories to nursing mothers and pregnant mothers, and double the daily supplement to malnourished children.

According to the ICDS website, for supplementary nutrition the financial norms were revised recently. The cost of supplementary nutrition (per day per beneficiary) for different category of beneficiaries vide the Ministry’s letter No. F.No. 4-2/2008-CD.II dated 07.11.2008, are:

1. Children (6-72 months): Rs 4 (up from Rs 2)

2. Severely malnourished children (6-72 months): Rs 6 (up from Rs 2.70)

3. Pregnant women and nursing mothers: Rs 5 (up from Rs 2.30)

If the ICDS can provide and meet the nutritional norms with such meagre allocations, I think it should be rated as the world's best known miracle. What is more shocking is the kind of accolade that has been showered on the programme by all and sundry, including the Planning Commission, World Bank, World Food Programme, CARE, and UNICEF.

Now take a look at the type of supplementary nutrition that is expected from such a paltry allocation. As per the ICSD website:

Children in the age group 6 months to 3 years : For children in this age group, the existing pattern of Take Home Ration (THR) under the ICDS Scheme will continue. However, in addition to the current mixed practice of giving either dry or raw ration (wheat and rice) which is often consumed by the entire family and not the child alone, THR should be given in the form that is palatable to the child instead of the entire family.

Children in the age group 3 to 6 years : For the children in this age group, State/ UTs have been requested to make arrangements to serve Hot Cooked Meal in AWCs and mini-AWCs under the ICDS Scheme. Since the child of this age group is not capable of consuming a meal of 500 calories in one sitting, the States/ UTs are advised to consider serving more than one meal to the children who come to AWCs. Since the process of cooking and serving hot cooked meal takes time, and in most of the cases, the food is served around noon, States/ UTs may provide 500 calories over more than one meal. States/ UTs may arrange to provide a morning snack in the form of milk/ banana/ egg/ seasonal fruits/ micronutrient fortified food etc.

I draw your attention to the last line only. It says: "States/ UTs may arrange to provide a morning snack in the form of milk/ banana/ egg/ seasonal fruits/ micronutrient fortified food etc." Now please tell me if you think this is possible in Rs 6 a day. If it is possible, I would like to know from where the ICDS is sourcing this morning meal. I too would like to buy from the same source.

As far as the budgetary allocations are concerned, the ICDS site says that alongside gradual expansion of the Scheme, there has also been a significant increase in the Budgetary allocation for ICDS Scheme from Rs.10391.75 crore in 10th Five Year Plan to Rs.44,400 crore in XI Plan Period. Now all this is not for supplementary nutrition. There are several other components of the ICDS. But whether we accept it or not, supplementary nutrition remains the most important and the basic foundation to fight malnutrition.

No wonder, India fares much badly than Sub-Saharan Africa in malnutrition. It will continue to do so.

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