While population and average wealth of residents grows in India’s metros, malnutrition and hunger too are spreading equally fast in their periphery.
Mumbai, considered to be the country’s financial capital is a good example where the state legislative council was informed late last year that more than 4,000 children were found suffering from acute malnutrition.
Women and Child Development Minister Yashomati Thakur gave this information in the Upper House of the state legislature while responding to a question asked by Congress MLC Bhai Jagtap.
“As of August this year, 4,194 children were found suffering from acute malnutrition in Mumbai city. Maximum cases were found in Dharavi, Malvani, Mankhurd and Govandi areas,” she was quoted by media as saying.
A nutrition rehabilitation centre was set up at Shatabdi Hospital in Mumbai on August 20 to provide medication to bring the children out of acute malnutrition. Other schemes are also being implemented to improve the health of the malnourished children and their mothers, Thakur added.
The situation in Mumbai’s adjacent district of Thane is even worse in terms of malnutrition related deaths and cases. Rural Thane has a large tribal population, where a large number of poor families live. The problem of food security and malnutrition is chronic in this region. Pregnant women of these tribal families do not get nutritious food, so the weight loss of children is not considered a new crisis here.
Even after the birth of the child, a balanced diet is not available to the mother. Therefore, the children also do not get enough milk and nutritious food from the mother. Due to this lack of balanced and adequate food, thousands of children are falling prey to malnutrition. The situation due to financial constraints is such that the parents are often forced to ignore the condition of the malnourished child.
A recent state government report on malnutrition for the year 2021-22 based on a survey of Anganwadi workers, revealed over 1531 children in Thane district are moderately malnourished, while 122 children are severely malnourished. However, local officials claim these numbers of malnourished children are lower than in the period before the Covid epidemic and the situation has improved compared to the past.
In order to tackle malnutrition in the vulnerable districts, several schemes like the Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Amrit Aahar Yojana and Supplementary Nutrition Scheme have been implemented. The Thane Zilla Parishad has claimed that they are getting positive responses from the people regarding these schemes.
The Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Amrit Aahar Yojana, operated by the state government since 2015 provides one hot, cooked meal to pregnant and lactating women in tribal areas. According to government data, so far 8,865 pregnant women and lactating mothers have taken advantage of this scheme in Thane district alone.
The Supplementary Nutrition Scheme is a scheme operated with the assistance of the Central Government, in which at least 25 days in a month, nutrition is given to children from six months to 6 years. There is a separate menu for 3-6 year olds. They are given hot and varied food, whereas children from six months to 3 years are given only a light diet like sweet porridge.
The question however is that if these schemes are well implemented, then how did 122 children become severely malnourished? This is besides the 1,531 children who are showing moderate malnourishment. After this data was made public, the Zilla Parishad says that they will now provide more benefits to these children through various schemes and bring down the level of malnutrition.
According to them the anganwadis in the district were closed for two years due to the outbreak of Covid epidemic. But, as soon as the outbreak of the epidemic subsided, it became active again. Therefore, in Thane district, eggs and bananas are being given 4 days a week to the beneficiary children in the age group of 7 months to 6 years and according to the administration, so far 45 thousand 230 children have been benefited from this scheme.
According to the information given by the Women and Child Development Department of Thane Zilla Parishad, the scheme is being reached to all registered beneficiaries in the district.
At the same time, the Chief Executive Officer of Thane Zilla Parishad Dr. Bhausaheb Dangde has given a statement on behalf of the administration regarding the situation of general malnutrition and severe malnutrition among the children of Thane district. Dangde says that due to the outbreak of Covid and its aftermath, it was becoming difficult to provide food to pregnant, lactating mothers as well as babies. Therefore, it was not possible to work properly on tackling malnutrition during this period. Now that anganwadis have restarted, these schemes will be implemented properly.
On the other hand, malnutrition has been recognized as a serious problem even in tribal areas like Palghar district adjoining Mumbai. In Palghar, about one lakh children and about thirty thousand pregnant and lactating mothers are given food through the anganwadis. But, this scheme has been closed for over one month. The reason is that since the last one month, the anganwadi workers of the district say that the prices of food items have become expensive, while the money being given to them by the government is very less. So they have stopped cooking.
There are 2,709 anganwadi centers operating in Palghar district. Out of this, 1,805 anganwadi centers are refusing to cook food. Anganwadi workers believe that Rs 6 per child and Rs 35 per mother is not enough in view of the recent rise in inflation. The prices of domestic gas and cereals and vegetables etc. have gone up. It is obvious that if the system of food supply in anganwadis is stopped, there will be nutritional deficiency and malnutrition will also increase.
Anganwadi workers in Maharashtra have also been aagitating since the beginning of 2022 seeking an increase in their honorarium to Rs 15,000 per month along with a monthly pension after retirement. The current honorarium for anganwadi workers and helpers is Rs 8,500 and Rs 4,500 respectively.
Shirish Khare has been associated with rural journalism for a long time and has been continuously reporting on the economic, social and health impacts of rural life during the Corona pandemic.