Indifferent to malnutrition

Indifferent to malnutrition


The Karnataka government’s disinterest in tackling the problem of malnutrition in the state is shocking, incomprehensible and unconscionable. It has not utilised a single rupee of the Rs 132.21 crore that the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development made available for the state under the Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition (POSHAN) Abhiyaan. Poshan Abhiyaan was launched nationwide in 2017-18 to tackle India’s massive malnutrition problem. Around a third of the world’s malnourished children are in India. Malnutrition impacts the health, immunity and growth of a child in various ways. It affects the mental, physical and emotional development of a child and its adverse effects are felt long after childhood. Since it impacts the child’s capacity to learn, it determines her ability to work and earn a livelihood. It is therefore imperative that we address malnutrition. It was to this end that the central government set in motion the Poshan Abhiyaan. Targets were fixed to reduce stunting, undernutrition and low birth weight by 2% each and anaemia by 3% by 2022. To this end, a total of Rs 3142.2 crore was made available to the states, of which just Rs 569.9 crore has been utilised.

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The underutilisation of funds nationwide reveals the widespread indifference of the state governments to the malnutrition problem. Bihar, for instance, has utilised just a quarter of the allocated funds. But states like West Bengal, Odisha, Goa and Karnataka are the worst in this regard. West Bengal and Odisha haven’t taken even the first steps toward implementing Poshan Abhiyaan. Goa and Karnataka haven’t begun utilising their funds. Officials in Karnataka claim they have begun implementing the programme and are training Anganwadi staff and ground workers. None of the four most laggard states can afford to not implement the Poshan Abhiyaan. They have serious levels of malnutrition. Average malnutrition in nine of Karnataka’s 30 districts is said to be higher than the national average. The percentage of Karnataka’s underweight children is almost as high as the national average. In the circumstances, no excuse proffered by the state government to justify its lethargic approach is acceptable. The problem is serious, and the Karnataka must ramp up Poshan Abhiyaan.

States, including Karnataka, often accuse the central government of adopting a ‘step-motherly’ attitude to them, especially when different parties are helming governments at the Centre and the states. They are often right. However, with regard to Poshan Abhiyaan, it is the states that are lagging behind the Centre’s effort. Already, it appears that most states will not meet the targets right until the 2022 deadline. Karnataka looks set to end up at the bottom of this heap.