In a report released in October, the Rome-based Food and Agriculture Oraganisation (FAO), which leads international efforts to defeat hunger, said that economic growth is not enough to reduce hunger and malnutrition. To beat the twin menace, it added, a country needs nutrition-sensitive agriculture, social protection and purposeful and decisive public policies. Both statements hold true for India. But the unfortunate part is that while the country has been spending more and more on tackling malnutrition and also strengthening its policies to force a change, it has not been getting the desired results. One reason for this dismal record, it is now clear, is rampant corruption. As reported in Hindustan Times last week, the office of the commissioners to the Supreme Court has said in a report that the Rs. 8,000 crore-a-year Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, one of the country’s biggest flagship programmes, suffers from gross violation and misuse of rules and a lion’s share of the fund is going to private food contractors who are being used in violation of a Supreme Court order. The court had ordered that only self-help mahila mandals can supply food in the plan. The worst performing states — in other words, the most corrupt when it comes to feeding their children — are Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Meghalaya.
India’s malnutrition figures are shameful to say the least. According to the data released by the government, 48% of children under the age of five are stunted, which means that half of India’s children are chronically malnourished. It’s important to keep our focus on it because it has a damaging impact not only on a child’s future but also on the nation’s growth prospects. Malnu-trition impedes motor sensory, cognitive, social development and such children are less likely to benefit from schooling and subsequently will have lower incomes as adults. So in other words, whatever funds the State spends on, say, schooling of each child under the Right to Education Act also goes to waste because a malnourished child will not be able to make best use of the opportunities. So the money we lose due to corruption in malnutrition schemes also ends up wasting money meant for other schemes.
The SC commissioners’ report states that a close nexus between politicians, contractors and bureaucrats has allowed the active subversion of “the letter and spirit of the SC orders”. In the case of UP, a powerful business group has been named. In the 12th Plan, the SNP will get Rs. 120,000 crore. Needlessly to say, such a huge amount will not have any impact on the health of India’s children unless the leaks are fixed and the corrupt are punished.