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Alarming malnutrition

Source: Google


Union women and child development minister Smriti Irani must be lauded for having pulled up the Assam government – and particularly the social welfare department – for its poor performance in implementing two major central schemes, ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ and ‘Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana’. Minister Irani was reportedly very upset with the kind of excuses Assam chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his social welfare minister Pramila Rani Brahma had apparently tried to make before her for the poor implementation of these two schemes. Though minister Irani did not make any public statement on Assam’s dismal performance in these two very important schemes, what minister Brahma has said before the media has made it clear that the Union minister was totally unhappy. ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ is meant to reduce stunting, undernutrition and anaemia among young children, women and adolescent girls. Rolled out in three phases from 2017-18 to 2019-20, it has identified 315 districts having highest malnutrition burden in the first year, 235 districts of the country have been taken up in the second year and the remaining districts are being covered in the third year. While the basic intention is to improve utilization of key Anganwadi Services and improving the quality of Anganwadi Services delivery, several government departments have been roped in to make it a success. It also aims to ensure holistic development and adequate nutrition for pregnant women, mothers and children. Assam is one state where malnutrition and undernutrition is dangerously rampant almost all over. According to Unicef, Assam has a high prevalence of undernutrition among both children, adolescent girls and mothers. Almost half of Assam’s under-5 children (47 per cent) are stunted, primarily due to poor infant and child feeding practices, and poor hygiene and sanitation behaviours. Fourteen per cent of children suffer from acute malnutrition, with four per cent of them experiencing Severe Acute Malnutrition. The prevalence of anaemia in this group is also high: it is 77 per cent among children aged 6 to 35 months, is 67 per cent among adolescent girls, and 72 per cent among others. Originally launched as Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) in 2010, it is a maternity benefit scheme that was rechristened as Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) in 2015 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It is a conditional cash transfer scheme for pregnant and lactating women of 19 years of age or above for first live birth. It provides partial wage compensation to women for wage-loss during childbirth and childcare and to provide conditions for safe delivery and good nutrition and feeding practices. Anchored by the state social welfare department, ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ is a multi-ministerial convergence mission to make India malnutrition-free by 2022. This means several other departments like health and family welfare, public health engineering, food and civil supplies, elementary education, panchayat and rural development, etc are also involved in implementing this Abhiyan. In Assam, the social welfare department is particularly notorious for siphoning off crores of rupees as well as foodgrains that are meant for improving overall nutrition of children. Several multi-crore scandals have already rocked the social welfare department; several officers are currently in jail on charges of pocketing funds meant for children. A number of politicians and at least one former minister have been named in the numerous scandals that have crippled the social welfare department. In the instant case of poor implementation of Poshan Abhiyan however, all the departments that are required to work in total convergence and coordination need to be pulled up. Non-implementation and poor implementation of ‘Poshan Abhiyan’ and ‘Pradhin Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana’ should be treated as criminal negligence on the part of all these departments, including the ministers and officers concerned, and punitive measures should be initiated against them for violating the rights of lakhs of poor children of the state.