Findings of three different studies on the status of “malnutrition in Gujarat” show that the levels of undernourishment among children of the state – especially those living in the tribal belt – is as high as 94 percent.
These field studies conducted by separate organisations show that there is “definitive link” between the poor condition of Aanganwadi’s in Gujarat and the wide prevalence of malnutrition in the state. The result of these studies were made public at a event on the subject organised at Gujarat Vidyapith by an NGO, Child Rights and You (CRY) on Friday.
One of the most damning of these studies was the one undertaken by Surat-based Centre for Social Studies (CSS) – an autonomous social science research institute supported Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) as well as Government of Gujarat — in the Dediapada taluka of Narmada district where 96 percent of the population is tribal.
“A sample survey involving 849 children in 20 villages of this taluka show that the malnutrition levels are as high as 94 percent in children in age group of 5-15 years,” said Gagan Bihari Sahu, associate professor of CSS who has himself undertaken the survey in these villages. Sahu however cautioned against extrapolating the findings from Dediapada, where the average malnutrition levels for children (of all age groups) stood at 59 percent.
According to Sahu, children in this region were not using the “mid-day meal programme” and that the poor quality of aanganwadis and lack of education were factors contributing to the poor malnutrition levels. “Loss of traditional food resources by way of ecological change or environmental degradation have considerable influence on the dietary pattern and have also contributed to the falling levels of nutrition,” he added.
A representative from Adivasi Vikas Trust who spoke at the event narrated how the state government agencies manipulate the data on “malnourishment” in this tribal belt. “There is a huge gap between our surveys and those conducted by the state government. The malnourishment projects exists on paper as far as Dediapada is concerned,” said Ishwar Pavar who heads the Trust at Dediapada. “Health-checks in the aanganwadis are irregular, there is no monitoring by the state government of these centres, most of which are located in difficult and hilly terrain,” Pawar added.
Meanwhile, a second study inspired by recent reports of Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the poor quality of Aanganwadis in Gujarat, talked about the “gaping holes” in the way these institutions are run. “Of the 249 Aanganwadi’s surveyed in 17 districts, we found that 65 percent do not have adequate toilet facilities, 34 percent do not have working electronic weighing scales, 28 percent do not provide regular health check-ups and 30 percent do have utensils for serving or preparing food,” said Kumar Nilendu of CRY which conducted the study along with BAAG (Buniyadi Adhikar Andolan Gujarat). The study examined the implementation of the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) in the state.
Similar observations were made by CAG about the aanganwadis in Gujarat in it’s latest reports on “local bodies” of the state. “There is a definite link between the poor condition of the aganwadis in Gujarat and the high levels of malnutrition that exists in Gujarat,” said Sejal Dave from an NGO – Anandi (Area Networking and Development Initiatives).
Dave who presented the third study at the event said that her NGO had surveyed 36 villages in seven “high priority talukas identified by the state government as having acute problem of malnutrition” and found that 81 percent of the severely undernourished children covered under the survey did not have their names of the ration cards and 64 percent of the families of such children did not have a “Mamata Card” ( a web-based initiative of the state government to improve maternal and child health services in rural and urban areas of Gujarat).
Speakers who spoke at the event also expressed concerned on the manner in which the food supplied under the ICDS scheme was not reaching the children but were being “fed to the cattle” in some of the areas that were covered by these three surveys.