By Arsh Rampal
The Gujarat government is spending less than ten rupees per child on daily student meals. This was stated by the Women and Child Development Minister of the State, Vibhavariben Dave, in response to a query made by the Congress MLA Santokben Arethia during the Question Hour. The vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, Rajiv Kumar, has stated that Gujarat has done very well in the sectors of industrialisation, infrastructure and energy but needs to catch up in the sectors of health & education. The state of Gujarat has allotted a significant amount of its budget to these sectors in its budget for the next year in order to bring a positive change in them.
The government’s expenditure
The education minister of Gujarat, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama has said that the government spends Rs 4.58 per day per student of classes one to five as part of the scheme. The per day cost comes out at Rs 6.41 per day for providing food to students of classes six to eight. The government spends Rs 9 per child for those between six and 72 months of age who are severely malnourished. The current rates are in accordance with the Centre’s directives in 2016 to increase expenditure by 7.5 percent. In the current framework, the government provides breakfast and lunch to the children for six days a week.
For breakfast, about 50 grams of food is given to each child whereas for lunch about 80 grams of food is given. The Centre has recently approved a hike in these rates after which Rs 8 per day for a “malnourished” child and Rs 12 for a “highly malnourished” child would be spent per day on their meals. The same would be implemented by the states in a timely and effective manner.
The problem of malnourishment
The issue of malnourishment has plagued Gujarat for decades. It has been the major cause of death in the state for over two decades. The lack of proper nutrition affects not only children in the state but mothers as well. About 39 percent of the children in the state are underweight, higher than the national average of 35 percent and more than twice the average of 16 percent in Kerala. The per-capita income of Gujarat is very similar to that of Maharashtra and Kerala, however, it lags behind the states in all parameters of child health. The state has made great progress in industrial development but has performed miserably in the health sector.
According to the data provided by the state, currently, there are about 1.11 lakh malnourished children in the state of Gujarat. 19,890 of these malnourished children are severely malnourished. The socio-economic review for the year 2017-18 screened children of up to 5 years of age and found alarming results. As per the review, about 29,442 children had Severe Acute Malnourishment (SAM), and 1,89,841 had Moderate Acute Malnourishment (MAM). There has been an increase in the number of malnourished children since 2016 in the state. This shows that the government’s current efforts and initiatives have not been very successful at tackling the problem of malnourishment in the state.
The future outlook for Gujarat
The plain implementation of the centre’s directives is not an effective solution to the rising malnutrition problem in the state and the government needs to come up with effective ways to tackle the problem. Even with an increase in the amount spent by the government, it seems unlikely that the state’s problem of malnourishment would improve significantly. The rise in price is likely to result in a higher quantity of food being provided; however, it does not guarantee the delivery of food to each malnourished child nor does it give any indication about the quality of the food provided.
The promotion of the mid-day meal scheme as well as nutritional values is the first step the government could take to tackle the issue. The alignment of the goals of the health & education sector with the developed sectors of the Gujarat economy, like industries and infrastructure, can also improve the situation. The recent debates in the legislative assembly should compel the state to take the issue more seriously and commit to resolving it.
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