Madhya Pradesh has learnt to live with malnutrition deaths. They disturb no one. The Bhopal edition of Hindustan Times, which has been focussing on them from time to time for the last two years, remains a lone voice: no other newspaper, much less the government, has taken up the issue seriously.
Only a handful of NGOs have been at it, but they too have failed to dent the state and civil society’s indifference. “There is no political initiative to tackle the problem,” said Sachin Jain, of the MP Right to Food Campaign, the NGO in the forefront of highlighting the issue. “Let alone the BJP, even the Congress has not shown any serious interest.”
Measures to contain malnutrition are still restricted to the districts in which the deaths have occurred. A comprehensive plan is yet to be formulated, let alone implemented. There is the Bal Sanjivini Campaign, running since 2001, whose specific intention was to curb malnutrition among kids, but its efficacy can be judged by the rising malnutrition death toll.
Somehow politicians have the impression that malnutrition can never become a poll issue. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s latest vote-catching gambit — the Jan Ashirwad Yatra through several districts — passed through Khandwa district the very day 68 children were admitted to a single hospital for malnutrition. Neither Chouhan nor any of the other leaders accompanying him cared to visit the hospital.
The situation is made worse by the government’s state of denial. “We have to look into how many of the deaths you reported were due to disease, and how many to malnutrition,” Health Minister Gaurishankar Shejwar told HT.
What the deaths do point to are the twin failures in MP of both the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and public distribution system. A Supreme Court-appointed committee, which looked into the matter, had emphasised the need to improve the implementation of both as well as well strengthen anganwadis. But corruption in the relevant ministries and departments has ensured this did not happen.