With malnutrition responsible for two-thirds of child deaths in India, the national nutrition mission was a prime focus of the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry in 2019.
In her first year as the WCD Minister Smriti Irani paid special attention towards effective implementation of the Poshan Abhiyaan, a programme launched with the aim of reducing levels of stunting, under nutrition, anaemia and low birth weight in children.
Irani travelled to nine states after assuming charge and met the chief ministers to review the implementation of the Poshan Abhiyaan.
The ministry collaborated with Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), to launch the Bharatiya Poshan Krishi Kosh, which will be a repository of diverse crops across 128 agro-climatic zones in India for better nutritional outcomes.
At the behest of the ministry, the Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health through its India Research Centre and BMGF will document and evaluate promising regional dietary practices and the messaging around them, and develop a food atlas on regional agro-food systems.
In consultation with the ministry and BMGF, the project team will select around 12 high-focus states which are representative of the geographical, social, economic, cultural and structural diversities of India.
In each state or group of states, the team will identify a local partner organisation that has relevant work experience in social and behaviour change communication and nutrition for developing the food atlas.
The month of September was celebrated as 'Poshan Maah' under which, ministry officials said, 3.6 crore nutrition-related activities were held in the country.
Under the national nutrition mission, frontline functionaries like anganwadi workers and lady supervisors were given smart phones with the ICDS-Common Application Software (CAS) to capture data of children, and pregnant and lactating women
As on October 31, 5.10 lakh anganwadi workers have been trained and are using the ICDS-CAS across 26 states and UTs.
According to the Indian Council of Medical Research's comprehensive estimates of disease burden caused by child and maternal malnutrition released in September, the death rate due to malnutrition in children under five years of age in India has dropped by two-thirds between 1990 and 2017, but still accounts for 68 per cent deaths of children in that age group.
With revelation that over 1,500 cases of child marriage have been reported in the country between 2013 and 2017, the government is considering bringing amendments to the Prevention of Child Marriage Act to make reporting of child marriages mandatory for agencies concerned.
On the issue of women's safety, the Empowered Committee (EC) under the Nirbhaya Framework recommended setting up of Anti-Human-Trafficking-Units (AHTUs) at a cost of Rs 100 crore for safety and security of women and girl victims of trafficking.
The EC suggested that psycho-social counselling and legal counselling and aid should be made available through these AHTUs to beneficiaries.
It also recommended setting up of women help desks in police stations in states and UTs at a cost of Rs 100 crore, fully funded by the Centre, under the Nirbhaya Fund.
The fund was set up in 2013 by the UPA government to improve the safety and security of women in the aftermath of the brutal rape of a 23-year-old paramedic student on the intervening night of December 16-17, 2012, in a moving bus in Delhi by six persons.
The woman was severely assaulted before being thrown out on the road. She succumbed to injuries days later at a Singapore hospital.
However, under-utilisation of the Nirbhaya fund remained a highly concerning factor with states such as Maharashtra and Meghalaya not spending a single rupee from it.
In total, just Rs 147 crore out of Rs 1,649 crore sanctioned by the Centre has been spent by state and union territory governments, Irani recently informed Parliament.
Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, the two states which were in the news recently for horrific incidents of rape and murder, were among the highest recipients of the Nirbhaya fund alongside Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi.
While Karnataka used 7 per cent of the fund allocated to it by the Centre (the fund allocated to Karnataka was Rs 191 crore and utilisation Rs 13.62 crore), Tamil Nadu used 3 per cent of the amount allocated to it under the Nirbhaya fund (the fund allocated was Rs 190.68 crore and utilisation Rs 6 crore).
Six states and UTs - Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim, Tripura and Daman & Diu - have not spent a single rupee from the fund allocated by the Centre, according to data shared by the minister in Parliament in response to a question.
The data also showed that Delhi, where the brutal incident took place, saw utilisation of less than 5 per cent of the fund allocated to it.
Delhi was allotted Rs 390 crore, the highest amount among states and UTs, but utilisation certificate of just Rs 19.41 crore has been received from it.
Telangana, where a 26-year-old vet was recently gang raped and murdered, spent only Rs 4 crore out of the Rs 103 crore allocated to it by the Union home ministry, which releases money from the Nirbhaya fund for 13 programmes including the Emergency Response Scheme.
On the under-utilisation of the fund, the Centre has put the blame on state governments, while states complain that money is not released for proposals given by them to the EC that has been tasked with appraising and recommending proposals to be funded under this framework.
While some issues were addressed by the WCD ministry in 2019, many others remain to be dealt with like women's safety, prevalence of high malnutrition, stunting among children and under-utilisation of Nirbhaya fund.