Telangana removes cap on mid-day meals in Govt. schools, will it help?

What is the state of malnutrition in India's newest state and how does this move help?
Telangana removes cap on mid-day meals in Govt. schools, will it help?
Telangana removes cap on mid-day meals in Govt. schools, will it help?
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According to The Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) 2013-14 conducted by the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, 35.4 per cent of children below five years of age were found to be stunted while 12 per cent of children of the same age group were severely stunted. The percentage of stunting is one of the key indicators in assessing the severity of malnutrition.

In light of this, the Telangana state government’s decision last week to remove the cap on mid-day meal items provided to school-going children in residential government schools and hostels in the state is most welcome.

Speaking in the State Legislative Assembly, state minister for civil supplies and finance Etela Rajender said “Our government feels that one could not limit the quantity of food for children to 125, 175 or 400 grams of rice, considering their nutritional needs at the growing age. It would be unfair on our part to restrict their intake and no matter how many thousands of crores of rupees the scheme needs, we are determined to run it in the best manner possible.”

Though the Assembly was almost devoid of opposition leaders on account of their suspension, the remaining members who were present praised the government’s decision, while shooting off a few more queries.

The finance minister also added that Rs 2,200 crore was provided for a requirement of two lakh metric tonnes of fine rice for the year, out of which 71,729 tonnes had already been supplied to thousands of schools and hostels.

An additional amount of Rs 104.78 crore has been spent so far to provide subsidy on the distribution of superfine quality rice, Rajender added.

Malnutrition in India's newest state

Telangana also fared poorly when it came to other indicators of malnutrition like wasting and being underweight. Wasting refers to the process by which a debilitating disease causes muscle and fat tissue to 'waste' away. 

Six percent of children below five years were found to be 'wasted' and weighing three standard deviations less than the expected weight for their height. Also, 6.8 percent of children from rural households were underweight while the percentage among urban households was 5.6.

Another survey by Young Lives, an NGO, concluded that "one third of the 12-year-olds (in the state) are suffering from chronic malnutrition and are persistently stunted. Disparities persist between socio-economic groups and children in rural and urban areas, clearly demonstrating the need for approaches to tackle malnutrition that will reach the poorest children, SC and ST children, and children in rural areas."

Other reports suggested that a hike in food price could have resulted in the poor state of affairs.

As far as mid-day meals are concerned, there have been reports of hundreds of children being rushed to hospital for food poisoning after eating a mid-day meal. 

There have also been reports of low quality and unhygienic food and cases where children have also been denied the promised food on the menu, due to lack of a monitoring authority.

Will this move actually help?

"It will help, to some extent," says Dr P Janaki Sainath, a member of the Indian Dietetic Association. "Children who would want to eat more, need not feel limited. As they are growing, their hunger and appetite varies."

When asked how it can be ensured that the decision seeps through to the grassroot level, Dr Janaki says "Appropriate regulatory mechanisms have to be in place to monitor the implementation. Review committees with local youth and NGOs would play an important role. Involving trained nutritionists at district and mandal levels will also help. The food intake, wastage and the growth trends can be assessed regularly to assess the benefits."

Janaki also agrees that there is a definite need for better quality and hygienic food. "Education on food safety, cooking, water quality, cleanliness should be given to workers, caregivers, parents and the school staff," she says.

"Adolescent health is important, as it is the key to prevent anemia, better pregnancy outcomes, prevent low birth weight, reduce future risk of diabetes and hypertension in the next generations of Indians," Janaki adds.

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