The Hindu Editorial Analysis – 1 – October, 2021

The following is an in-depth analysis of the October 1, 2021 Hindu Editorial titled ‘Failing on food’. The Draft B is the actual piece whereas the Draft A is the analysis by us.

Draft A…

Walking inexorably towards emaciation -How PM-POSHAN can combat it better

Creeping and rampant malnourishment among children calls for augmenting their food intake by providing wholesome mid-day meals in schools.

The toll taken by the prolonged spell of Covid-19 of the incomes of middle and lower middle-class families has led to sharp decline in the quality and quantity of food consumed by them. With the spectre of hunger looming over vast sections of the population, the extension the PM POSHAN scheme by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs until 2025-26 is a step in the right direction. The findings in Phase I of the NFHS-5 (National Family Health Survey-5) for 22 States and Union Territories in December 2020 are very depressing indeed. Stunting of the physical and mental growth of children as a result of long periods oof malnourishment is a very serious omen. Quite alarmingly, incidence of stunting spiked in 13 states. Besides this, anemia was found to be endemic among women and children pointing to inadequate nutrition in their food intake was observed in 12 states.

When juxtaposed over the findings of the preceding report, the heightened debilitating effects of malnutrition among vast swathes of population becomes painfully clear. That millions of children are going to grow up with impaired mental and physical capabilities is a matter of grave concern. The country will be saddled with a whole generation of sickly, under-performing people as a result. The impact on society is going to be really calamitous.

The situation needs immediate and aggressive steps to stave off the scourge of impoverishment. The government must start with finding and allocating sufficient money for such a gargantuan challenge. The centrally supported hot meal programme in Government and Government-aided schools, covering 11.8 crore children is a good initiative that needs to be augmented. The meals can be enriched by adding more nutrition. Areas that have been found to be reeling under acute anemia must be brought under such augmented mid-day meal schemes. It is heartening to see that most of such measures have already been approved by the government.

Plans are afoot to extend this nutritious meal scheme to pre-primary children. To keep a tab on last-mile delivery, social audit mechanisms will be put in place. Schools will be encouraged to have their captive kitchen gardens that could be a source of fresh vegetables. Strong links will be built with local farmers and traders to ensure efficient procurement.

Two things stand out as pivotal to the success of POSHAN- a grandiose effort to ameliorate the hardship of millions who have seen their buying power plummet dangerously. One is to ensure that enough funds are available to implement the different measures to fight of malnutrition. The other is to put in place a credible monitoring mechanism by which the success or otherwise of such government intervention are measured right at the grass root level.

The government has allocated ₹1,30,794 crore for the PM-POSHAN initiative for the next five years. This figure includes the contributions of the States and the UTs. It is essential for the authorities to bear in mind a strict upper cap of this allotment could harm the success of the scheme. Fresh funds must be made available if the need so arises as the implementation proceeds apace.
Monitoring the positive effects of the nutritious meal scheme can be made by observing the weight gain, and increase in hemoglobin of the recipient children. It takes just a few days for these symptoms to appear. On the contrary, the evaluation process has to be much longer to see if the symptoms of stunting have indeed been reversed and if so, by what extent.
The Saksham Anganwadi-Mission POSHAN 2.0 amalgamates the POSHAN Abhiyan and schemes covering the anganwadis. The latter programme covering crèches and adolescent girls, has received robust funding in the past. Considering this, the POSHAN initiative deserves better funding than what has been provided for.

Nutritional planning is an area that needs a harder look. Diversity of diets is key to ensuring better availability of micronutrients and proteins for the body. Schools and childcare centers are the places where the meals are cooked and the children fed. So, the highest focus must be diverted to these places where the action really lies. In present times, food prices have soared due to inflation, and buying capacities of people have decreased visibly. Against these two adverse factors, ensuring that the school meals programmes do not get impacted is a real challenge. One needs to delve into the causes of low offtake of food by states, particularly the mid-day meals programmes during the pandemic. Perhaps, such a study will reveal some inherent flaws in the process. Ian a nutshell, the best management brains must be at work to save the coming generation from the scourge of impoverishment.

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Draft B ….

Failing on food

Recent data on child malnutrition underscore the value of good school meals

The approval of the PM POSHAN scheme by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs until 2025-26 comes at a critical time when real income declines and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the ability of families to ensure good nutrition. The findings in Phase I of the NFHS-5 for 22 States and Union Territories in December 2020 were shocking: childhood stunting rose in 13 States, there was high prevalence of anaemia among children and women, and wasting was a serious concern in 12 States. The slippage over the previous survey period exposes the worsening scourge of malnutrition, threatening to deprive millions of children of a fully productive adult life. It will take a serious effort to address this hidden crisis, backed by strong budgetary commitment. The centrally supported hot meal programme in Government and Government-aided schools, covering 11.8 crore children, will be supplemented with nutritional elements in identified aspirational districts and areas with high anaemia. The scheme, which is proposed to be extended to pre-primary children, provides for social audit, creation of school nutritional gardens to source fresh produce, involvement of farmer-producer organisations as providers, and lays emphasis on local food traditions. While these are positive features, momentum towards eradicating malnutrition hinges crucially on annual budgetary outlays and proof of POSHAN’s working will lie in measurable outcomes.
Support for the PM POSHAN, which the Government says has been approved over the five-year period at ₹1,30,794 crore, including ₹31,733 crore from States and UTs, must remain elastic. While some child growth metrics such as stunting require a longer window to measure, problems such as anaemia and low weight lend themselves to speedy amelioration. The Government must demonstrate that Saksham Anganwadi-Mission POSHAN 2.0, which amalgamates the POSHAN Abhiyan and schemes covering anganwadis, crèches and adolescent girls, is fiscally stronger than its erstwhile component parts. There must be a meaningful increase in the current Budget estimate over the combined past outlay for the subsumed individual schemes. On nutritional planning, the renewed plan should introduce a greater diversity of diets that compensates for micronutrient and protein deficiency. Strong supplementation of nutrition at school, in the community, and at childcare centres is critical at a time when criticism of food inflation has met with a tone-deaf response, and pandemic-induced income declines have depressed essential consumption. The lower offtake of foodgrains for the noon meal scheme during the pandemic over the previous year and patchy food distribution mechanisms in many States should set alarm bells ringing. The future of a generation of Indians is at stake.

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