By Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chairman, TAPF
India has many nutrition intervention programs under different government ministries. These programs are already in place and working for the social welfare of people. Programmes functioning under National Nutrition Mission are ICDS, SABLA, Special Nutrition Programme, Balwadi Nutrition Programme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan under which the Mid Day Meal scheme comes and Tamil Nadu Integrated Nutrition Programme.
The government of India in the year 2017-2018 allocated Rs. 16,745 crore and Rs. 10,000 crore, respectively, for the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS). Each year, the coverage of the ICDS increases with the opening of new centres, but the budget allocated remains just the same.
In the case of Mid Day Meal Scheme, there was a persistent decline in the allocation too. The share of all nutrition-related schemes including the food subsidy constituted only about 1.8 percent of the GDP in 2017-18. Excluding the food subsidy, the nutrition budget would not even amount to one percent of India’s GDP.
The guidelines to ensure quality, safety and hygiene under the Mid-Day Meal scheme are already in place. The government needs to ensure the implementing agencies use the existing framework and proper allocation takes place for such activities because compromising with standards will not change the ground situation.
With the budget just around the corner, here are a few Budget 2018 recommendations –
Central/State governments can allocate and distribute funds further based on geography specific nutrition needs of children not based on national standards of Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA). Mapping the nutrition profile as there can’t be a similar generic profile for private schools and rural schools. These nutrition profile needs to meet the allocation towards ensuring quality and safety standards of mid-day meal.
Extending the scope of ‘Mid-day Meal’ scheme from one-time meal to school nutrition program as a whole which can include breakfast and snacks. That will ensure health and nutrition status of the children. This need not to be necessarily a cooked meal, but ready to eat supplementation in the form of milk or customized cookies will do the needful.
Convergence between the agriculture and MDM department of state(s), to ensure the demand and procurement of food grains from farmers. Focus also needs to be shifted from wheat/rice to super foods like millets, which are more nutritious and at the same time benefitting for environment and the local cultivators.
The school feeding programs due to its wide coverage and acceptability can certainly graduate to carrying out health interventions. This will serve a dual purpose of monitoring health status of the children in particular geography as well as a platform for delivering health education.
The whole point behind the financial and fiscal restructuring is that with more resources the Centre should step up their allocation for a variety of purposes, from advocacy through multi-sectoral planning to budgeting and accounting for nutrition as there is an immediate requirement for high-impact nutrition-specific actions. The current standards of nutrition for children are quite broad, however India being a diverse country, children from different geographies have different needs, central and state government must work on nutrition profiling and allocating funds based on state specific requirement rather than national standards.
Also, it is essential to ensure the quality and hygiene of the MDM for children despite of the scale, the current allocation is proving to be practically insufficient in many experiences.
Government has to play proactive role in scaling up the investment and work on convergence with various stakeholders like NGOs, farmers, health officials etc. Convergence will support in making MDM as an umbrella program to build the school ecosystem for growth and development of children as well as contribute towards building sustainable communities by ensuring farmers security.
(About the Author: Madhu Pandit Dasa is the Chairperson, Akshaya Patra Foundation)
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