Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently admitted that 'the problem of malnutrition is a matter of national shame'. That malnutrition is one of the most acute problems faced by our nation comes as no news. So Singh's sudden zeal, and the Congress' sudden enterprise with the Food Security Bill comes a tad bit too late in the day, and suspiciously close to the elections.
According to Singh, the nation has 16 crore children below the age of 6 years. In the years to come, these children will join our workforce, as scientists, farmers, teachers, etc. The health of our economy and the future of our society thus depends on the health of this 16-crore strong generation. The fact that so many of them are starving certainly does not bode well for the future of our country.
Funds worth crores are spent tackling malnutrition through the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) funded by the Central government every year. The fact that there is still such a far-flung divide between what is envisioned and the ground reality, means that it is not so much the amount spent, but how it is spent, that must be looked into.
Some months back, this newspaper carried a series of reports exposing how ridiculous amounts of money sanctioned by the state is spent on non-essentials like toys and stationery, even as 619 kids died of hunger in the Nashik district. In course of the winter session of the State Legislature in Nagpur last month, it was announced that 1.17 lakh children have died owing to malnutrition in the last four years.
The point where all these discourses converge are the anganwadis, maintained with the help of state and central government funds. And this is where all NGOs and administrators need to focus. A close look at the quality and supply of food, for both children and expecting mothers, is the need of the hour.
Are you listening, Mr PM?