Read full article By Vijay Avinandan, Alok Mishra, Subham Awasthi @ TIE Photo Credit: File Photo
Evidence-driven approaches, including those tried out in Mexico and Brazil, can remove shortcomings in India’s nutrition schemes.
The findings of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) have come as a reality check, and even experts are trying to make sense of it. The survey shows that food security and nutrition in India have worsened since the last NFHS round (2015-16). Among the 22 states and Union Territories (UTs) for which the data was released, 18 show either stagnation or worsening of stunting (height-for-age) levels among children less than five years. Since the data presents the pre-COVID-19 picture, the current nutritional status could be more worrying, especially for the poor and the marginalised sections. The final figures and the trend for the country will, however, be only known after the data becomes available for the remaining states/UTs.
Several studies have shown that childhood stunting, reflecting long-term chronic malnutrition, is associated with poor school achievement and diminished income-earning capacity in adulthood. Nutrition also serves as an effective entry point for human development with high economic returns – studies show that for every rupee spent, more than 16 will be returned.
Globally, India accounts for roughly one-third of the total population of stunted children under the age of five. The country, thus, has a tough road ahead for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of 2030 for childhood stunting.
The implementation of the National Food Security Act was expected to make a dent in the nutritional challenges. The Act made access to food a legal entitlement for a large part of the society — 75 per cent of the rural and 50 per cent of the country’s urban population. Today, NFSA is the key pillar supporting India’s food-safety-net schemes, especially the Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS), Mid-Day-Meal (MDM) and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS-Anganwadi-Supplementary Nutrition Programme). TPDS alone provides subsidised food grains to roughly 76 crore ration cardholders.
National figures for food grain procurement, off-take, and budget allocations under the NFSA are staggering. Procurement of rice and wheat increased by nearly 35 per cent between 2009-10 and 2018-19. Annual off take of food grains increased by roughly 30 per cent during the same period. Overall, the annual consumer food subsidy — or the difference between economic cost of procurement and sales realisation at central issue prices — has nearly tripled, from Rs 42,489.7 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 1,15,570 crore in 2020-21. In fact, the actual budget figures could be higher due to dues pending to the Food Corporation of India.
NFSA, however, seems to have missed its mark in achieving nutritional outcomes for a number of reasons.