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Blame on states for hungry kids

New Delhi, Dec. 25: State-level nutrition regulators are to blame for India’s failure to pull itself out of the league of sub-Saharan Africa in child malnutrition statistics, Renuka Chowdhury has said.

“The inability of state nutrition programmes to spread enough awareness about nutrition is the prime reason for the continuing malaise,” the women and child development minister said.

Chowdhury said she planned to increase central control over state nutrition programmes under the 11th five-year plan, recently cleared by the National Development Council.

In 1975, India had launched an Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), whose main aim was to improve nutritional standards among children till the age of six. Three decades on, India’s nutritional standards rank alongside countries traditionally associated with the worst socio-economic indicators (see chart).

At the turn of the century, India and most other countries had said they would, by 2015, halve the number of children suffering from malnutrition in 1990.

Earlier this month, Unicef came out with a statistical review on where developing countries stood in terms of meeting Millennium Development Goals concerning children. The report called India’s progress towards meeting that goal “insufficient”.

The Centre has a food and nutrition board, which supervises the nutritional standards of food provided to young mothers for their children under the ICDS.

But the FNB relies on state nutrition departments to spread their messages of awareness Ś a handicap, according to Chowdhury.

Although the Centre completely funds the ICDS, state governments Ś the implementing agencies Ś take the final decisions on the food that reaches the children.

“The time has come for the Centre to have a greater say in the nutrition of the country’s children,” Chowdhury said.

She accused state governments of not utilising central assistance “properly”. “We (the Centre) insisted that boiled eggs be provided to children under the ICDS. But I found that in many places, they break one egg into two to feed two children.”

She also questioned the demand of state governments that they be allowed to choose the ICDS diet based on local needs. “When we recommend a particular diet, they (state governments) suggest changes, saying dietary components should be tailored to local needs. But tell me, don’t all children eat chips and burgers?” she asked.

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