ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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State and Nutrition Security


The concern shown by V S Vyas for providing a pivotal role to the civil society in extending food and nutrition security to the poor and the marginalised needs more detailed analysis than what he has attempted in his article ‘State, Civil Society and the Market in Ensuring Food Security’ (December 9, 2000). The needs of vulnerable groups like pregnant women, children and the malnourished have been met by the state in the last two decades by the now well publicised programme called the Integrated Child Development Services Programme (ICDS). The ICDS was launched in 1975 in a few development blocks and now almost 90 per cent of villages and urban slums have been covered with this highly centralised programme. ICDS is the mainstay of the department of women and child development of GoI and their counterparts in the states. More than 50 per cent of the cost of this programme is on supplementary feeding of the pregnant and lactating mothers and the children in the age group of 3-6 years. What food is to be given when, where and how is decided in Shastri Bhavan and in the state capitals. The success of the supplementary feeding is determined by the number of days the anganwadi centres (feeding centres) have fed the kids and not on the nutritional gains achieved, although the department of child development reels out statistics of anthropometric gains. The state level officers of the directorate of women and children spend far too much time in managing the logistics of food distribution and other non-nutrition related tasks. Our village level institutions like mahila mandals, village panchayats, self-help groups of women are capable of cooking the supplementary foods, deciding the local and seasonal preferences of children and generally satisfying the nutritional demands of the vulnerable groups. Why should the state level bureaucracy be deciding these arrangements? The state can decide how much budget allocations is to be given to each village anganwadi and hand over the amount to the village women’s groups and tell them to provide supplementary nutritional foods for village kids and pregnant and lactating women. Civil society can well take care of this feeding programme. Now everyone from the central department of women and child development to the village level anganwadi worker have developed vested interest in ICDS and will not hand it over to the civil society groups.

Standardisation of feeding through noon meal programmes in schools has neither helped the nutritional needs of the children nor improved school attendance. It is time that centrally designed nutrition programmes like ICDS, Food for Work, school meals programme, CARE-supported feeding programmes, etc, are all handed over to local village level institutions like panchayats. Let our home science colleges and agricultural universities decide and provide advice on the menu to the village level women’s groups. In Kerala, mahila samajams were doing this before the ubiquitous ICDS came into being. The arguments generally made against the involvement of these women groups are that they are corrupt, eat away funds and corner food materials. Once the accountability of these women’s groups is clearly established they can do a better job than the child development bureaucracy with all its high cost paraphernalia. It is time that the state quits these local level nutritional activities and devotes more time to other urgent public health, water and sanitation activities which are critical to good nutritional well-being of the people.

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