The state government’s lackadaisical approach to tackling malnutrition is evident in the measures it took on two fronts: the report of the Bombay high court-appointed Malnutrition Monitoring Committee (MMC), submitted in February this year, has been in cold-storage since; and grand plans for an Urban Malnutrition Mission, declared in April this year, are yet to get off the ground.
“Malnutrition rates in Maharashtra are unacceptably high,” stated the Malnutrition Monitoring Committee report, accessed by HT. The report made a slew of recommendations (see box) but the government has hardly put any of them to work. “We are studying them,” said a senior government official.
The MMC studied malnutrition in the chronically-affected areas across the state and, unlike other committees, also examined the situation in Mumbai slums. The 14-member MMC comprised experts in childcare and nutrition, doctors and reputable activists with the director (health services), government of Maharashtra, as member-secretary.
The Urban Malnutrition Mission too is on paper, nearly six months after it was announced. “I haven’t seen any particular initiatives under this mission. We know very little about it,” said Leena Joshi, project director at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), helming a long-term study of malnutrition in M-East ward, the northeastern strip of the city known for its dumping grounds, shifting slum population, and poor health care.
Malnutrition was not even considered an urban issue till a couple of years ago and relegated as a “rural and tribal” issue, said a MMC member. Urban malnutrition, typically found among young mothers and children, in poor slums was recorded by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation in its Human Development Index report of 2009. The infant mortality rate (IMR) in the city’s slums (66.5 per 1,000), according to NGO reports, has been nearly twice that of the state average (34.5 per 1,000).
“The poorest slums are those with issues of legal-illegal status,” explained Joshi, “they often shift or these slumdwellers do not have necessary documents, which means they cannot access any of their entitlements. They become marginalised and therefore vulnerable to malnutrition.”