Source– The post is based on the article “Fixing India’s malnutrition problem” and published in The Hindu on 24th November 2022.
Syllabus: GS2- Issue related to hunger
News- The article explains the issues related to malnutrition in India.
The Global Hunger Index 2022 has ranked 107 out of 121 countries.
The GHI is an important indicator of nutrition, particularly among children. It looks at stunting, wasting and mortality among children, and calorific deficiency across the population.
What are the issues with government interventions to tackle malnutrition?
Funding– Government of India implements the Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 scheme to tackle the problem of malnutrition. However, the budget for this scheme for FY 2022-23 was ₹20,263 crore. It is less than 1% more than the actual spend in FY 2020-21.
An Accountability Initiative budget brief reports that per capita costs of the Supplementary Nutrition Programme POSHAN 2.0 has not increased since 2017 and remains grossly underfunded. It is catering to only 41% of the funds required.
Manpower constraints– The budget brief also mentions that over 50% Child Development Project Officer posts were vacant in Jharkhand, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
Monitoring- Social audits that are meant to allow for community oversight of the quality of services provided in schools are not carried out routinely.
Cash transfer– It seems to be a favoured solution for several social sector interventions in India today. Evidence suggests primarily that cash transfers improve household food security. But, they do not necessarily translate into improved child nutrition outcomes.
The effect of cash transfers is also limited in a context where food prices are volatile and inflation depletes the value of cash. There are social factors such as ‘son preference’, which continues to be prevalent in India. They can influence household-level decisions when responding to the nutrition needs of sons and daughters.
What is the way forward?
Cash transfers have a role to play here. They are useful in regions experiencing acute distress, where household purchasing power is very depressed. Cash transfers can also be used to incentivise behavioural change in terms of seeking greater institutional support.
Food rations through PDS and special supplements for the target group of pregnant and lactating mothers, and infants and young children, are essential.
There is a need for greater involvement of local government and local community groups in the design and delivery of tailored nutrition interventions.
A comprehensive programme targeting adolescent girls is required if the intergenerational nature of malnutrition is to be tackled.