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Livestock, not kids, eat miracle therapeutic food in the state

Roopi Pahariya runs after three-year-old Subri, a malnourished child with a frail frame, trying to coax her into eating the contents of an orange packet supplied by the government.

ranchi Updated: Aug 05, 2015 10:42 IST
Anbwesh Roy Choudhury
Anbwesh Roy Choudhury
Hindustan Times
Jharkhand RUTF,Malnutrition in Jharkhand,Tribal children diets

Roopi Pahariya runs after three-year-old Subri, a malnourished child with a frail frame, trying to coax her into eating the contents of an orange packet supplied by the government.

It's a daily routine for Roopi in Bada Kalajhor village in Jharkhand's impioverished Godda district, home to several tribal communities, some of them with just a few thousand members left.

But the child won't have even a bit of the micro-nutrient fortified food supplied at the local anganwadi centre under a government scheme to provide dietary nourishment to the poor tribal children.

After a while, an exasperated Rupi dumps the food at her courtyard for goats and cattle to feast on. "He doesn't like it," she says.

Other mothers in the locality say it is the same with their children - they don't like the packaged food due to its "bad taste" and also the fact that it looks strange to them.

The irony is that, despite the Centre's directive to the state government to not force tribal children to eat something that looks alien to them but gives them locally produced food, the state authorities have declined to budge.

The result: costly packaged food meant for enriching the platter of tribal children with nutrients is ending up in cattle and goat sheds.

Minors continue to eat the boiled rice and potato - their staple food - that lacks the nutrients and calories a growing child requires.

Experts point that this vicious cycle is eventually leading minor children from the tribal society to their graves, a fact confirmed by official data. Jharkhand has an under-five mortality rate (IMR) of 51 per 1000 live births. Godda is even worse with 76.

Balram Joe, advisor on food to the commissioner, Supreme Court, said, "We will move the high court to ban the packaged food. There is no check on quality apart from the bad taste."

he added that the SC has been considering multiple reports of 'ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF)' being rejected by locals, and how it had become a profitable business for private companies.

"Jharkhand has been asked by the Centre not to experiement with RUTF and the state government is yet to act."

Jharkhand's miracle RUTF comis in 900-gram packets, and is given to children between six months to 3 years. Each packet contains a mix of flour, soya nuggets and pulses. "Cooking the packed food in boiling water results in a brown cake. But the children still do not like it," says Sita Pahariya, in Godda's Dangapara village.

"We throw the brownish cake away and instead give them our own home cooked food."

Member of the Right to Food campaign, Dhiraj Kumar said that "Tribals have their own food habits. Suddenly changing it to something not in their diet is not a viable option. Rejection is obvious."

"We have been asking the state to give them local produce which is nutritious and has been in their regular platter."

The social welfare department has received around 300 complaints from across Jharkhand over children rejecting RUTF.

Principal Secretary Social Welfare Department, Binay Kumar Choubey said that "There have been complaints. Give me a week and I will have the full report."

The rejection of the RUTF comes in Jharkhand where 47% of children under the age of 5 are stunted and 42% are underweight as per the UNICEF-India's Rapid Survey on Children 2013-14.

First Published: Aug 05, 2015 10:37 IST