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Children go hungry so cattle can eat

Powerful food mafias and corrupt officers have led to poor implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in the state, reports Rajesh Kumar Singh.

india Updated: Dec 19, 2006 01:58 IST

Cows have it better than many children in Uttar Pradesh. Nutritious food meant for children under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is being used illegally to fatten the cattle of the rich and influential in Uttar Pradesh, say state government officials.

Powerful food mafias and corrupt officers have led to poor implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, which has resulted in the nutritional status of children in Uttar Pradesh to be the worst in the country.

Arrested development

>Fifty two per cent of children under 3 years of age in Uttar Pradesh are undernourished

>The prevalence of stunting, wasting and being underweight in UP is 52 per cent

>Almost 2.5 million children under 5 years die every year in India, and Uttar Pradesh

>Contributes to 28 per cent of these under-5 deaths

>The state is characterized by a high infant mortality rate (IMR) of 72/1,000 live births

>It also contributes to 26.3 per cent of all infant deaths that occur in India

It is not that money is not spent. The government spends Rs 500 crore a year to procure pushtahar (nutritious food) for distribution among children and pregnant and lactating women living in rural areas through 1.38 lakh anganwadi centres under the ICDS. But the food does not reach most of them.

“We have even got complaints that at several places, panjiri (ready-to-eat energy mix) meant for mid-day meals is fed to cattle,” Balwinder Kumar, secretary, Department of Women and Child Development, Uttar Pradesh, told the Hindustan Times. “Along with streamlining the supply of nutrition in the rural areas, this department is working hard to break the control of the panjiri mafia that controls the supply of nutrition to the poor,” he added.

Now the state government hopes the mothers of starving children will take up the fight and clean up the supply chain. To break the hold of the mafia on the supply of panjiri, the department has constituted ‘Mother Committees’ in each village and has started distributing hot, cooked food among the children through anganwadi centres. “We hope the mothers can take on the might of the panjiri mafia and ensure that their children get nutritious food, “ says Kumar.

In over half the 54 districts of Uttar Pradesh, the prevalence of under-nutrition in children between the ages of 1 and 5 is between 50 and 75 per cent, according to a recent study done by the National Institute of Nutrition, in collaboration with Institute of Applied Statistics and Development Studies, Lucknow.

Following the Supreme Court order last week directing all states to ensure that children get freshly-cooked meals at school, a “hot food programme” will be launched as a pilot project in 20 blocks of five districts — Saharanpur, Unnao, Deoria, Jhansi and Mathura — from January 1, 2006. The programme will be expanded to include 50 blocks by the end of March next year.

Women whose children are registered with aganwadi centres will be nominated to the Mother Committees to ensure that they have an interest in the implementation of the scheme. Women who are members of self-help groups will get preference.