Replacing take-home rations with cash transfers in aanganwadis is a terrible idea
Women don’t have enough power within households to insist that the cash provided be used for nutritional needs. The THR system is a way to ensure that they at least get some essential nutrition.editorials Updated: Sep 19, 2017 16:04 IST
The decision to do away with take-home rations (THR) in aanganwadis for infants under three and pregnant and lactating mothers, and to replace the scheme with cash transfers is not a good idea. The initial impetus for the scheme came from the severe malnutrition that several thousand infants and children face, especially in rural India. To ensure that infants and pregnant women got the requisite amount of nutrients that they might not get in their regular diet , supplementary nutrition was seen as an effective way of combating malnutrition.
Cash transfers in lieu of THRs would defeat the purpose since the point was that their regular diet does not provide the needed nutrition. Cash transfers will not help change the regular diet of the women or the children. In fact, given that women in most families do not handle affairs of money at all, there will be no way to ensure that the money transferred will be spent on nutrition alone. Since malnourishment cases largely exist in the poorest pockets of the country, any added money would be diverted to uses other than nutrition for pregnant women.
Even in many high income households, the nutrition needs of the women are the least priority in the larger scheme of things. Often, the boys and men of the house are prioritised over women for milk, fruits, and other nutritious rations. The case is not different in rural situations. If anything, it is worse. Whether pregnant mothers and infants – especially girls – eat nutritious food is of almost no concern. In such a scenario, the aanganwaadis and the THR scheme was a way to ensure that women and infants were at least getting these rations. Women occupy positions of very little power in families and cannot be expected to be able to fight and demand rights to supplementary nutrition.
While there have been several loopholes in the THR plan as well, a better solution would have been to ensure the quality of the food supplied, invest in more monitoring and better administration of implementing the programme. Substituting cash transfers for take-home rations seems like an attempt by the state to wash its hands of the problems of implementation of a good scheme.