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Tribal malnutrition crisis haunts Maharashtra( thehindu)

State’s claims belied by data showing 40 per cent of malnourished children in seven regions


Maharashtra faces the ‘stark reality’ of malnutrition among children in tribal areas, according to the State government’s own report.


The official study reveals that in seven tribal belts, over 40 per cent of children are affected by some form of malnutrition. In comparison, in the best performing block, Harsul in Nasik, 27.3 per cent suffer from malnutrition, down from 42.3 per cent in 2012.


Just 24 hours before the report was presented, in reply to a ‘calling attention’ motion moved on Thursday by 86 MLAs in the Assembly — citing around 8,000 child deaths due to malnutrition between April and August 2016 — the State had claimed that its preventive approach on malnutrition is working.


The report, titled Malnutrition Status in Tribal Belts, highlights shortcomings such as supply of grains infested with insects, worms and other contaminants to meal schemes, and children getting neither entitlements under the Public Distribution System (PDS), nor sufficient calories under the Supplementary Nutrition (SN) and Take-Home Ration (THR) schemes. Also, the report says, other contributing factors are poor health care facilities and constant migration. The report was prepared by the Rest of Maharashtra Legislative Development Board, and presented last week to Governor C.V. Rao. The Hinduhas a copy.


Senior officials told The Hindu the caloric requirement provided under both the SN and THR was questionable. “In one such visit to a THR production unit, it was found care was not taken to clean grains before milling. Insects, small stones and unwanted material were found in the grains,” the report says.


The team found that food scarcity did not seem to be a contributing factor as much as poorly balanced diets. Except for carbohydrates and proteins, other food groups – milk and dairy products, fruit and vegetables, and fats and sugars – were missing from the diet. The Rs. 5.92 per child provision under the SN scheme was ‘insufficient.’


THR food given to children was ‘bitter / smelly / salty / raw / coarse’. Even that was not given to deserving beneficiaries. Some ration was fed to livestock.


Systemic faults


In Nandurbar, PDS was irregular, delivered with two-month gaps, and “the quota was not as per entitlement.” Grain was of poor quality, and often sugar and kerosene were not delivered at all. In addition, the recipients were overcharged. “Twenty per cent of families did not have ration cards,” and many had to walk several kilometres to get their quota.


Of the self-help groups (SHGs) surveyed, 63 SHGs received grains only once every three months during the five-month survey period (Jan 2016 to May 2016). In 44 Anganwadis Centres (AWCs), the team found either snacks were not served with meals or of ‘poor quality and quantity.’ Also, 47 AWCs did not have toilets or had toilets in unusable condition.


A silver lining


One area did show signs of improvement: health.


There has been a dramatic increase in the use of health centres, regular counselling, increased awareness of pre-natal and ante-natal care, breast-feeding norms being followed, and immunisation schemes implemented. Kakarpati and Mungabri blocks, the worst-performing regions on other parameters – 1.24 on AWC, 1.39 on THR, 1.50 on PDS, 1.67 on nutrition – scored a greatly improved health score of 2.63.


Milind Thatte, member, Tribal Advisory Council of the Maharashtra Government, says, “This report proves government is not facing up to the real problems to tackle tribal malnutrition; it is just looking to reduce the annual death count by trying to force feed tribal children artificial food under THR/SN schemes..”

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