Child malnutrition and open defecation

Child malnutrition and open defecation

A mirror to the Modi’s Gujarat model of growth

By

Faraz Ahmad

The Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been holding back the publication of the Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) conducted jointly by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and the Government of India on malnutrition of Indian children, for the report is likely to prove a major embarrassment not so much to India but to Modi and his much touted Gujarat model.

Ever since the BJP suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2009 general elections, the party effectively aided by its fellow travellers from the Sangh parivar, Baba Ramdev, Asaram Bapu (at one time), Subramanian Swamy, Ram Jethmalani, Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi, and Arvind Kejriwal  led first by L K Advani and later by Narendra Modi, all drummed up the campaign, condemning the UPA government led by Sonia Gandhi- Manmohan Singh duo as the most corrupt, inept and inefficient government which brought only ruin and devastation to India.

While it is true that despite his earnest desire Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the most concerted effort of his Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the duo could not sufficiently appease the business and the rising aspirational class in India, resulting in the success of the calumny campaign of the Sangh parivar, in collaboration with a willing partner, the media, convincing large sections of the populace of the truth of their charge, the facts as disclosed by this RSOC report on a single but an extremely important issue of child malnutrition, presented exactly the opposite picture. The July 4, 2015 issue of The Economist quoting the report accessed by it, stated that “India has more malnourished people than any other country. Around 30% of children under five are underweight according to RSOC carried out in 2013 and 2014 by the UN and the Indian government. That is a welcome improvement from an estimated 43% a decade ago (during the NDA regime). But it still leaves children worse fed in India than Africa where the proportion of underweight children is 21%, well below India’s level, and much less healthy than in China where only 3% of them are underweight.”

The Economist further reports that, “UNICEF’s nutrition adviser for South Asia, Victor Aguayo says India’s overall gains have been ‘unprecedented’. A decade ago 42.5% of all children were underweight. Now the reported rate is below 30%. That improvement coincided with a period of rapid economic growth, rising household incomes and more spending on welfare such as free cooked mid-day meals in schools. Madhya Pradesh in Central India cut the proportion of its children going hungry from 60% to 36 %; Bihar in the north from 56% to 37%.

“The case of Maharashtra,” says the Economist quoting the RSOC, “a wealthy state on the western coast, is revealing. The proportion of children there who are underweight,  fell from 37% to 25%,” adding that ‘Mr Aguayo cites Maharashtra as a ‘good example’ of how to deal with malnutrition, identifying four crucial changes there: better and more frequent feeding of infants, more care for pregnant women, higher household incomes and a rise in the age at which women begin having babies. Officials and politicians in Maharashtra played a crucial role by helping to target worst-afflicted groups such as the tribal people known as adivasis.”

This is the same state, which was painted by Modi, Hazare, Kejriwal and their cohorts as the most corrupt, anti-people state in the country, once they had rid Bihar of Lalu Yadav.

But the Government of India is reluctant to release the RSOC report because of its observation regarding most BJP run states, in particular Modi’s Model Gujarat and its says, “Coincidentally or otherwise, states run in the past decade by Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) appear to be laggards compared with several  states that are (or were) under the control of rivals. The most sensitive example is Gujarat, which Mr Modi has touted as a model because incomes there are high. The RSOC shows that the proportion of hungry children there fell from 44.6% to 33.5% but that remains worse than the national average. Maharashtra next door has similar incomes and has fared much better.  Gujarat is also worse than the national average for stunting (18.5%) and wasting (18.7%). Nearly two-fifths of its population defecate out of doors.” This is from the state ruled by Modi for 13 years after which his first message to the nation was “Swachh Bharat.”

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