news Friday, June 05, 2015 - 05:30
  When nine out of 10 Indians have protein deficiency, it’s a good time to ask the Karnataka government why it hasn’t yet introduced a good source of protein – eggs – in the mid-day meal scheme for school children. The Indian Market Research Bureau conducted a survey in seven Indian cities with 1,260 respondents found that vegetarians were more protein-deficient than non-vegetarians, but both protein intake for both groups was less than ideal by 88%. Anganwadis and mid-day meals in schools were introduced across the country and at different times, but both are aimed at addressing the nutritional needs of children and preventing hunger and malnutrition. Protein is considered the building block of the body and lack of protein results in fatigue and weakness. In its Annual Work Plan and Budget for 2013-14, the government of Karnataka noted that during discussions at the district level, there were demands for supplements such as eggs, bananas, and snacks as in other states. Whether or not to introduce eggs in government mid-day meals is more than just a question of food habits and religious practices. It has implications of social justice as well. The 4th Review Mission on the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Karnataka report notes that the state has the “constitutional mandate” to implement the mid-day meal scheme “as part of the fulfillment and realization of the right to food for children”. Within this framework, is another factor – that of malnutrition being disproportionately higher among social groups than others. A report titled Child Malnutrition in Karnataka, by advocate Clifton D’Rozario, who is the Advisor to Commissioners of the Supreme Court, is illuminating. It notes that among children who are malnourished, the majority belong to the Scheduled Castes. A look at the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan data reveals that over 80 percent of school-going children who belong to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes rely on the government (including aided schools) for early education, while the number of general category students attending state-run schools is half this figure.   In the light of these findings, it appears that the health of SC / ST children is affected far more than children belonging to other communities, and that the government is failing in its duty to achieve the goals of social justice as mandated by the Constitution, says Niranjan Aradhya, Program Head for Education at the Centre for Child and the Law at National Law School of India University. The Child Malnutrition in Karnataka report also says that while the majority of malnourished children are from SC communities, more girls suffer from various degrees of malnutrition than boys. In such a scenario, girls from SC communities are more likely to be born unhealthy, and remain so. Public Health Researcher with Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali Akhila Vasan says that women in India are generally anaemic. This often results in low birth weight if not newborn deaths. “For such children (who are born with low birth weight), it is difficult to catch up later,” Vasan says, pointing to the cyclical nature of ill health caused by social factors. Asked why successive governments had failed to introduce eggs despite there being scientific and policy recommendations, and demands from activists, Aradhya said it appeared that each party was would consider how the move would affect its vote bank even though dieticians clearly recommend eggs as a cheap source of protein. Anganwadis in Karnataka already have eggs on the menu, but health activists say that they should be provided to all children and not be limited to those who suffer from various grades of malnutrition. The inclusion of eggs in the mid-day meals however, has been fraught with politics. In Karnataka, proposals to introduce eggs, milk and bananas have been around since at least 2007, but despite repeated demands by activists, government-appointed review missions, policy and research bodies, the government appears to have turned a deaf ear due to a combination of two factors – unwillingness and political considerations. In January 2014, there was a proposal to introduce meat in the diet of the mid-day meals taking into consideration the observation of the National Institute of Nutrition that the mid-day meals menu was inadequate for the to meet the nutritional needs of children between the ages of 6 and 14. One of the first moves to introduce eggs was during the JD (S)-BJP coalition government. In December 2007, some districts had already begun to include eggs, but following pressure exerted on the BJP by Hindu and Jain religious leaders, Kumaraswamy gave up. In February 2012, when the Karnataka High Court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by NGO Athani Vimochana Sangha, the advocate general had told the court that the government was planning to implement a scheme for providing eggs and milk to children. The NGO had approached the court saying that 2,689 children had died due to malnutrition between 2009-11 in Raichur district alone. In March 2013, the Team Leader of the 4th Review Mission on the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Karnataka advocate Clifton D’Rozario recommended that eggs, milk and bananas be served to school children. In two separate letters addressed to the Principal Secretary of Primary and Secondary Education of the state government and the Deputy Secretary of the Human Resources Development, D’Rozario said: “It is also recommended that eggs/bananas and milk be provided to all children in MDMS as is being done in the States of Tamil Nadu and elsewhere.” The last attempt at this was put into cold storage in November 2013, and the Department of Primary and Secondary Education has done little since to implement the proposal. Speaking to The News Minute, D’Rozario said: “The only fact that should determine what food is served should be the nutritional value. Any attempt to bring in religious sentiments of a section of society is just not acceptable. There are people who do not drink milk, so will you ban milk? Others say that you shouldn’t pluck fruits from trees, but eat only what falls down. Will you ban agriculture then?” He also pointed out that except for BJP-ruled states and some others, most states served eggs to children, adding that Tamil Nadu had one of the most successful mid-day meal programmes and it had been serving eggs for decades.