Saturday, November 8, 2008

Break Political Silence On MalnutritionBy

Sachin Kumar Jain

07 November,

The issues on which politics decides to go silent owing to compromise often become the “no action needed zone” for the bureaucracy. Nine children died in duration of a week in three villages of Satna district of Madhya Pradesh. The issue came to light when someone got wind of it. The health department issued report that the deaths were owing to malnutrition. However, the Women and Child Development Department (WCD) immediately denied the report, saying that the children had succumbed to various diseases (means it is not Dept’s responsibility). No responsible officer deemed it fit to visit the spot and the WCD Department managed to alter the report mentioning that the children were above six years of age and thus outside the purview of its care, Very simple but so apathetic.
Children are not looked upon as living being in integrated form but in piecemeal manner according to age, department and problems. The issue is not confined to Satna. Nutritious food has not been delivered to 24000 Anganwadi Centers (AWC) in the State and this is a regular feature. Children continue to die, but the issue does not have enough edge to provide a basis for debate in the political circles. It also proves that the issues of malnutrition deaths are outside political priorities' list. The kindergartens have become very important for the affluent people and the AWCs are being demolished because the market forces do not want State to play any role as Child rights protector.The meaning of the malnutrition in children is the starvation arising out of the political apathy towards the child rights, corruption, unaccountability and the current priorities of development. It is important to note that about 16 percent of the population in state is below age of six years, which means that about 1.10 crore populace falls in this category, but only one scheme is being implemented for them. More shockingly, only 0.9 pc of the expenditure is made on this Integrated Child Development Scheme. Before we set aside malnutrition as non-issue, let us understand that the GDP growth rate of the country lags behind by three to four percent because of this problem because owing to malnutrition, half of the populace in country becomes incapable contributor to the development and progress of nation with full vigour.The extent of inhuman and emotionally violent attitude of our politics towards malnutrition and its victim children could be gauged from the fact that let alone implementation, even the basic structure of the ICDS (Anganwadi scheme) in the 11th five year plan (2007-12) has not yet been decided. No sign of any progress in implementation could be seen in budget of 2008-09, probably because as per the wish of the Union Minister, the work of supply of nutritious food could not be handed over to private companies, which will provide Biscuits in meal, in place of hot-cooked and culturally acceptable nutritious food. The Supreme Court of India, in a decision of December 13, 2006, had ordered the universalisation of the ICDS scheme. Till then only four crore children in country were benefited by the scheme and out of 14 lakh habitations, localities and villages, eight lakh did not have AWCs. The Supreme Court made it very clear that every child, every pregnant woman, every lactating mother and every adolescent girl should have access to the anganwadi centres and should get its benefits including nutritious food, health check up, pre-school education, vaccination and others. The order of the apex court mandated the State that the work of universalisation should be completed by December 2008. However there is no political movement visible in this direction. No political party moved out of their non-issue based politics and not talking on prospects of this order at all. If we take the example of MP, here only 67770 anganwadis are being operational against the actual need of 1.26 lac centers, while is dearth of as many as 58000 children are still deprived of the ICDS services. However the political attitude towards opening of new centers seems totally apathetic. We have seen those guidelines that mention the checklist for the ministers and bureaucrats should review during the visit to the filed. But the issue is not of guidelines, but the ground realities and ground realities make it clear that neither the politicians, nor the bureaucrats make any effort to check functioning of AWCs. In fact they should write their comments on the Anganwadi registers, but a recent study of Right to Food Campaign finds ‘No Comment”. The scheme basics make it very clear that every child, pregnant woman, lactating mother and adolescent girl should get the benefit of nutritious food and other services for 300 days in year without any limiting criteria. However in MP, the budget is given only for 130 days and out of this, the provision for 60 days fall victim to corruption. The report of Comptroller and Auditor General mentions that the scheme is not only prey to corruption in MP but also children do not get the necessary 300 calories and 8 to 10 gm of protein and as much as 59 pc children are totally deprived of the scheme. It is really a poser as to why the schemes in India are chalked out in a way that the common people cannot have any hopes from it. If one talks of government hospitals then they are centres that are filthy, totally degenerated with foul talking personnel and if one talks of anganbadi centres then they are 8x10 ft rooms where 80 children, 20 pregnant woman and 30 adolescent girls are expected to sit. The beneficiaries are made to feel totally beggar-like during distribution of nutritious food so that they do not have any feel of being Rights Holder. The worst luck is the fact that the development visionaries who consider Sensex and Gross Domestic Product as the most important indicator of Development feel that the governments need not to worry about the Hungry children, and even political parties should talk about the Growth based development, and should stop spending subsidies on issues like child protection. They should invest this money for Market development and their (State’s) subsidies to the Big Money Making Corporations will create employment and eliminate Chronic Hunger and all kinds of in-equality in the Society. Their argument that these schemes are waste of resources and it leads to the community becoming dependant on government and developing habit of eating out of spoon. They say that people should be taught to work hard, but forget that if one is afflicted by malnutrition in childhood and 80 pc of mental and physical growth is stunted and they cannot contribute to process of development in adulthood. In such situation, the development visionaries in the political lobbies would have to talk on child malnutrition as one of the major political issues, but the concern is that it should not be too late by time they decide to do so. Unfortunately MP could not get politicians like K. Kamraj or M G Ramchandran of Tamil Nadu, who considered nutrition of children as basic indicator of development and thus the ICDS is one of the best run scheme in Tamil Nadu.We should understand that principally we believe in a democracy, where any change can come through political process, but presently the system is becoming tolerant to the extent of being salient on the continuous child deaths. The system is totally silent in political context on the issue of death of children due to malnutrition. Some violent protests are visible but majority of them are personal cases where some scenes are made in hospital premises when children from powerful families die, but it is limited to that. There is no demand or protest beyond that. The issue sometimes finds mention in comfort zones, some researchers and thinkers are working on it, but no political movement is visible on the issue. Children are dying to see their right to nutrition on the pages of election manifesto.

Sachin Kumar Jain is a Development Journalist . He can be reached at

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