Access to nutritious food, a concern

The right to food is enshrined in the Constitution. Still, people are going hungry.

That the overwhelming majority of pregnant women and lactating mothers in rural India are unable to access their daily food requirements despite government support in this regard is deeply distressing. Just one in five pregnant women and nursing mothers in rural India are getting a financial grant of Rs 5,000 that the government extends towards their daily food requirements, a survey by noted development economists Jean Dreze and Ritika Khera has found.

Of the 706 pregnant women and nursing mothers from the states of Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh surveyed for the study, just 15% of pregnant women received the grant due to them in their third trimester while the first and second instalments were received by just 39% and 17% of nursing mothers. The study reveals that the surveyed women had to spend an average of Rs 6,400 for delivery and that this forced nearly a third of them to borrow or sell their assets. 

Eating wholesome and nutritious food is particularly important when women are pregnant and lactating as it has implications not only for her health but also for the development of the foetus and the wellbeing of the infant. Most Indian women are anaemic and this often leads to high maternal morbidity and mortality, low birth-weight and high infant mortality. Malnourished mothers give birth to malnourished children.

If these children survive, they grow up to be adults with physical and mental development challenges, stunting and other issues. Their immunity is low making them vulnerable to an array of ailments. It is to ensure that pregnant and nursing mothers have access to nutritious and balanced diets that successive governments put in place a range of programmes to ensure that women, especially those from rural areas and economically weaker sections, can access these easily. Since many women are unable to work during their pregnancy or the months following childbirth and are thus deprived of their wages, the government put in place the Pradhan Mantri Matritva Vandana Yojana to compensate for the loss of wages. The money is to be credited to the woman’s account in instalments.

Although access to this financial support is growing, far too many women remain excluded. The right to financial aid continues to elude most women. Government officials must look into gaps in the programme’s implementation and address them. The right to food is enshrined in the Constitution. Still, people are going hungry. That pregnant women and nursing mother are going hungry or are unable to access nutritious food because they lack the money for this is a damning indictment of our democracy.

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