Gandhinagar, 26 March 2020
After the outbreak of coronavirus, the government announced to close all schools and anganwadis in Gujarat. 35 million children are without food. The same number is for pregnant women, breastfeeding women. Thus, 70 lakh people have been discontinued for lunch or another meal. Announces Free Grain from Cheap Grain Shop But no one can afford to go to the grain which will be traded in the black market.
Evidence suggests that this is an essential prevention step, in which it excludes millions of children, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and adolescents with nutritional support from the Integrated Child Development Plan (ICDS).
There are 96000 employees of Gujarat’s 29000 Midday Meal Center. A child’s meal – breakfast costs Rs 8 while the government spends Rs. 2.37 pays. Despite the provision to increase the cost by 7.50 per cent per annum, no increase has been made in Gujarat in the last two years. Children are not paid 100 grams of ghee in 5 grams of oil, 50 grams of sugar in 5 grams of oil, 30 grams of chickpeas, chopped with onions and tomatoes, 0.18 paise per 100 grams of grains, no money for gas or breakfast. The government has ordered breakfast with food but no more groceries. The government also seems to be having fun with the children .. The midday meal manager’s remuneration is Rs 1,600 and the chef-helper gets Rs. A salary of as little as 1400 is paid.
At the same time, lakhs of children between six and 14 who were getting hot cooked food under the midday meal (MDM) scheme are being left in the lurch, without any alternative nutrition support.
While the government claims it is fully aware of under-nourishment status among women and children of Gujarat, there is little to suggest that alternative nutrition support system has been created.
In the normal course, ICDS is supposed to provide hot cooked food three times a day, including milk. Take home ration is given to extremely malnourished children, in addition to three times serving.
Take home ration (ready to cook packet) is given to pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls, and also to children between six months to three years. With anganwadi centres closed, all of this has been put to a grinding halt.
Activists from civil society organizations working on health and nutrition have tried to contact officials in the Woman and Child Development department of the Gujarat government to ensure that ICDS and MDM are made operational, but it seems the department is helpless.
While everyone is aware that the entire state is currently focusing on the coronavirus epidemic preventive measures, one cannot deny the possibility of severe illness due to undernourishment.
State authorities do not seem to understand that undernourished children are more likely to catch infection and illness. By ignoring nutrition needs of children and women, the state government is, in fact, taking a huge risk.
In such a situation, children from these families need extra support. Other states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have come up with ration distribution from schools or from fair price shops (FPS) immediately after the closure of schools was announced.
There appears little understanding in government circles that nutrition support (MDM or ICDS) are not welfare schemes, which can be run or closed as per availability of resources, or the capacity of the administration. These are legal obligations under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and responsibility of the state.
Recently, the Supreme Court issued an interim order to all the states in a suo motu writ petition, giving instructions that an alternative arrangements to be done by the state to continue nutrition support to the underprivileged. The order is dated March 18, 2020, yet till date is no initiative to comply with the apex court order.
Ironically, on entering the the ICDS website, the first thing one noticed till recently was Poshan Pakhwada (nutrition week) celebration from March 8 and 22!