Poshan Abhiyan: Failure, despite funds

Poshan Abhiyan: Failure, despite funds

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The Poshan Abhiyan scheme, which was launched with much fanfare by Prime Minister Narenda Modi in 2018, is among the most underperforming welfare schemes of the government, going by its own figures. Official statistics often try to give an exaggerated account of the performance of government schemes. But in the case of the Poshan Abhiyan scheme, not only has any exaggeration been avoided but there is clear evidence of under-achievement. Union Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani told Parliament recently that of the Rs 4,283 crore allocated for the scheme, only Rs 1,283.89 crore had been utilised until October 31, 2019. This amounted to only 30% of the total disbursements. It is a scheme which aims to bring down the stunting of children in the 0-6 age group from 38.4% to 25% by 2022. It also aims to reduce wasting, anaemia and underweight problems. All these are caused by malnutrition, which accounts for 68% deaths of children in this age group. The scheme also aims to improve the nutritional status of pregnant women and lactating mothers as children’s health is closely linked to it.

The total budgetary allocation for the scheme was Rs 9,046 crore, of which 50% was contributed by the World Bank and other agencies. The rest was shared by the Centre and the states. The maximum utilisation was made by Mizoram, but even that was only 65%. The record of most states was very poor, with Punjab utilising only 0.85%. There are big inter-state and intra-state differences in the incidence of stunting and wasting. Poverty and lack of awareness are the main reasons. The mission aims to improve nutrition through targeted efforts. The under-utilisation of funds could only be the result of indifference and inefficiency at the political and bureaucratic levels. About a year ago, Niti Aayog had expressed concern over the low utilisation, which was then about 16%. Even after the states were told to speed up the activities under the scheme, the performance is poor.

The importance of tackling malnutrition and improving child health cannot be exaggerated, as they are essential elements of healthcare and development strategies. The Poshan Abhiyan target is unlikely to be met in the next two years, though there is still time to give greater momentum to its implementation. At the present pace of implementation of the scheme and other related schemes, the country is likely to miss the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations for 2030. The government often finds it difficult to fund many welfare schemes. It is unfortunate that it is unable to utilise the funds which are already available for implementation of an important scheme.

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