Child nutrition: Low spend leaves Karnataka in a lurch 

The study, titled ‘Public Expenditure on Children in India: Trends and Patterns’, funded by Unicef and carried out by the thinktank, the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, charts governmental expenditure on children aged 0 to 18 years, across 16 major states in the country through the lens of budgetary data. (Image for representation)

Karnataka’s failure to strategically allocate public spending on child nutrition and health is leaving the state clinging to the middle rung of India’s development ladder, a new study has found.

The study, titled ‘Public Expenditure on Children in India: Trends and Patterns’, funded by Unicef and carried out by the thinktank, the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, charts governmental expenditure on children aged 0 to 18 years, across 16 major states in the country through the lens of budgetary data.

This expenditure covers several parameters, but coalesces around child development, education, empowerment, nutrition and health.

The finds are stark: Kerala performs best across the board and Orissa has made the greatest strides in development because as Dr Jyotsna Jha, the director of the thinktank, explained, its government has been using a complementary approach to public funding, aimed at comprehensive development across several sectors.

Where Kerala ranks first across all categories, Karnataka ranks 9th out of 16 when it comes to health and nutrition. The study correlates the state-wide Gross Domestic Product (GSDP) with the state’s per child expenditure. While Karnataka’s GSDP is fourth highest among the 16 states considered, standing at Rs 9,254 billion, its expenditure per child is only Rs 10,308. In contrast, Andhra Pradesh, which has a smaller GSDP of Rs 6,479 billion spends Rs 12,689 per child. 

This itself does not tell the full story, said Madusudhan Rao B V, a senior research adviser at the thinktank. He pointed out that among the 12 takeaways of the report is a finding that while the economic capacity of a state matters, what is more critical is prioritization of spending. 

The study shows that while Karnataka’s total child expenditure has grown slowly over a seven-year period from Rs 157 billion in 2012-13 to Rs 251 billion in the 2018-19 fiscal year, much of the funding has been effectively spent only on education, with health attracting a measly 1% of total funds allocated, while nutrition has attracted about 16%. In education services, the state ranks 4th out of 16th.

According to Rao, other factors such as four problematic districts in the northern part of the state, including Koppal and Raichur, were driving Karnataka’s ranking down in health and nutrition. “Low nutritional awareness among people in these districts are primarily responsible,” Rao said, suggesting that nutritional education could reverse the situation.

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