Better allocation of funds
Money under DMF provides enormous scope to scale up intervention and meet national and SDG targets at the time of a slipping hunger index
The recently released global hunger index (GHI) 2019 has once again made India confront an uncomfortable reality. At a time when we are aspiring to be a five trillion dollar economy and touching some of the heights in science and education, our country is crippled with high under-five mortality, severe undernourishment and pervasive symptoms of malnutrition such as wasting and stunted growth among children. India's 102 ranking in the GHI table (out of 117 nations) simply is an antithesis of our aspirations.
However, it is not that the problem has gone unrecognised. The country's flagship childhood development programme, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) was launched in 1975. The scheme is aimed at addressing malnutrition, health as well as the development needs of young children, pregnant and nursing mothers.
In the current budget (2019-2020), the Centre has allocated Rs 27,584 crore for the ICDS scheme, a nearly 18 per cent increase from last year. At the end of November 2017, the Union Cabinet chaired by the Prime Minister had also approved the commencement of the National Nutrition Mission (NNM), with a three year budget of Rs 9,046.17 crore, commencing from 2017-18.
This will be funded by 'government budgetary support' (50 per cent) and the rest by international financial institutions such as IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development) and MDB (multilateral development bank).
The NNM, renamed as the Poshan Abhiyan in May 2018, aims to reduce stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth weight by an average of at least two per cent per annum. The vision is also to have an India free of malnutrition by 2022.
Intervention needs scaling up
With the vision of a malnutrition-free India by 2022, the challenge is really enormous. The government is targeting district-level intervention in a phased manner under the Poshan scheme (315 districts in the first year, 235 districts in the second and the remaining in the third year).
However, there is a greater opportunity to scale up and strengthen intervention through the use of funds, such as available with District Mineral Foundations (DMF) in the mining districts.
DMF has been set up for poverty eradication and to address issues of under-development afflicting India's mining-affected communities and areas. Instituted under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2015, in just over four years, DMFs across the country have a total corpus of more than Rs 32,000 crore.
This money must be used for various pressing issues ailing mining-affected communities, among which 'women and child development' has been highlighted as a 'high priority' issue. And indeed it must be.
Many of the top mining districts (with the highest share of DMF funds) have high under-five mortality rates (U5MR) and a large proportion of children suffer stunted growth and wasting. This is the case with many districts across India's top mining states, such as West Singhbhum, Dhanbad, Keonjhar, Sundargarh, Korba, Dantewada, Singrauli, etc.
However, the problem is districts are not making the necessary amount to invest in this critical issue. An analysis by New Delhi based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment in 2018 showed that most of the top mining districts have allocated only about one per cent of their annual budget or less to deal with the issue. Most of that is for Anganwadi construction and upgrading.
There has been some reconsideration in recent months with respect to improving investments on child nutrition in some of the districts. This is primarily by improving the nutrition level of food in anganwadis and efforts to particularly target children (0-3 years) by setting up some crèches and similar activities.
However, these are still drops in the ocean. With the funds DMF has, the scope to scale up the intervention is huge. This will require proper planning and political will. Instead of channelising the lion's share of DMF money for building roads, bridges and any other physical infrastructure in various sectors, the issue of child nutrition must be taken up as an emergency.
Aligning with the national goal of a malnutrition-free India within the next three years, and the target of sustainable development goals to reduce U5MR to 25 by 2030, districts need to set their targets. Taking DMF funds and other available resources to deal with child mortality and malnutrition into consideration, the need of the hour is a comprehensive action plan.
(Srestha Banerjee is Programme Manager, Environmental Governance, Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi. Views expressed are strictly personal)
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