(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
January 22, 2012
Malnutrition of Children – Should The Govt Not Feel Ashamed?
PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh has lamented the high levels of malnutrition among the children in the country and called it a ‘national shame’. It is indeed strange that it took a report of a study by a corporate NGO to rouse the indignation of the prime minister about the unacceptably high child malnutrition in our country. Many earlier reports including those of government agencies have established the fact that, despite the rosy picture sought to be painted through the GDP figures, the real health of the country as reflected by the conditions of children, and of the women who give birth and nurture them, is depressing. What is really a matter of shame is that the government, boasting of the growth of dollar billionaires under the neoliberal policies has turned a blind eye to the health of children and women.
per the National Family Health Survey (NFHS – 3) conducted in 2005 -06
by the ministry
of health and family welfare, 46 per cent of the children in our
underweight. Data from the UNICEF show that 47 per cent of the children
Was the prime minister not aware of these facts all these years? Has it suddenly dawned upon him that ‘ we cannot hope for a healthy future for our country with a large number of malnourished children? ’ Why were effective measures not taken to improve the conditions of our children?
of the major interventions that the government made to address the high
incidence of infant mortality, maternal mortality, child malnutrition,
etc was the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. The
was started experimentally in 1975 and has established its efficacy, as
revealed by several studies including by National Institute for Public
and Child Development (NIPCCD), National Council for Applied Economic
(NCAER), UNICEF etc. But the government failed to take measures to
full potential by allocating adequate funds. It has been administering
it on an
ad hoc basis.
prime minister heads the National Council on
Even after the so called ‘universalisation’, as per government records, less than half of the total of 16 crores children below six years in our country are covered by the ICDS. The spread of anganwadi centres is uneven. While new centres are being opened where already anganwadi centres exist leading to crowding, there are no anganwadi centres in many areas, particularly where SC/ ST population predominates.
The conditions of anganwadi centres continue to be pathetic. Most of the anganwadi centres do not have own buildings and many, even today, function from open spaces. Nearly half do not have toilet and drinking water facilities. On the pretext of community participation, food supply, preparation and distribution are being privatised resulting in irregular supplies of food which is often inadequate and of bad quality, unfit for consumption and disliked by the children. The type of community participation being practiced results in harmful intervention in the functioning of anganwadi centres by a host of people including NGOs, local political leaders, panchayat members, ‘Mothers’ committees’, self help groups etc leading not to improved service delivery but harassment of the anganwadi employees and deteriorating functioning of the centres.
bizarre argument has been put forward by a representative of the NGO
conducted the study that malnutrition in
The cat is out of the bag when the prime minister reveals the hidden agenda by saying ‘we can no longer rely solely on ICDS to fight malnutrition’. Since the advent of neoliberal policies, the government has been trying to privatise ICDS and somehow divest itself of its responsibility. In the name of community involvement, supply, preparation, distribution of supplementary nutrition and management of anganwadi centres are being handed over to panchayats, self help groups, mothers’ committees, NGOs (including the corporate NGO that conducted the present study) and even big corporate houses like Vedanta as reported in the press. This has worsened the functioning of the anganwadi centres, not improved them in any way. In several states, nutrition centres, nursery centres etc are being opened on temporary basis by different government departments just in the vicinity of anganwadi centres catering to the same children and creating unhealthy competition for the same beneficiaries and resulting in wastage of public money.
The anganwadi workers and helpers, the most vital functionaries of ICDS at the grass root level, the ‘backbone of ICDS’, are treated most shabbily. While their workload is being increased by allotting all sorts of village level work of different government departments, often unrelated to ICDS, they are not even paid minimum wages. The government refuses them to provide any social security benefits like gratuity, pension etc on the plea that they are only ‘social workers’, even as it forces them to ‘retire’ on reaching 58 – 60 years after working for 30 – 35 years. Very often they are at the receiving end for the failure of the government administration in providing the benefits at the anganwadi centres.
Reacting to the findings of the report, the women and child development (WCD) minister said that the ministry plans to ‘restructure’ ICDS. Any restructuring of ICDS should be to strengthen it through adequate budgetary allocations but not for its privatisation. It is regrettable that while the revised plan outlay for ICDS in the 11th Five Year Plan was Rs 72, 877.52 crores, only around half this amount was allocated for the entire period. The WCD minister said that her ministry has asked for an allocation of Rs 2 lakh crores for ICDS for the next five years for improving its functioning and infrastructure facilities. Considering that the revenue foregone through tax concessions for the few corporates and the rich in the last three years alone was a whopping Rs 14,28,028 crores, this amount for the benefit of the 16 crores children and crores more pregnant and lactating women should not be denied by the finance ministry. Besides, financial allocations should also be made for the regularisation of anganwadi employees, providing them minimum wages and social security benefits including pension etc.
It will truly be a national shame if an important scheme like ICDS, which holistically addresses the serious problems of malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality etc plaguing our country, is restructured/abandoned by the government at the behest of corporates and NGOs. If the prime minister sincerely feels that such high incidence of malnourishment and stunting among our children is unacceptable and a ‘national shame,’ he should take immediate steps to ensure that adequate financial resources are allocated to ICDS in the ensuing budget.