As reports of malnutrition in the midst of affluent subsistence trickle in from different parts of the country, it is deeply astonishing that what they call poshon (nutrition) programme for children has been suspended in Burdwan, till recently the rice bowl of West Bengal.
The social welfare scheme provides therapeutic food packets to children. As a report in this newspaper reveals, the pilot project, which was scheduled to be implemented with effect from September, has been discontinued for no stated reason. The ICDS (Integrated Child Development Service) is reported to have asked the district administration to keep the programme in suspended animation soon after it was inaugurated with customary fanfare in August.
Neither the District Magistrate of East Burdwan nor the Zilla Parishad have the foggiest idea as to why the food department has concurred with the ICDS decision to halt the programme. It is hard not to wonder whether the ICDS suspects a conflict of interests and jurisdiction.
In the net, it is the child who is bound to suffer on account of the bureaucratic wrangling over life’s essential. The sudden and unexplained suspension must seem still more astonishing as it was an attempt to correct a critical lacuna in the Food Security Act, which theoretically guarantees a minimum quota of foodgrain every week to the BPL category, but is bereft of nutritional value.
Hence the virtually endemic malnourishment, stunting, and other deleterious effects of the lack of nutrition. The symptoms are almost incurable. It was bad enough to have prescribed, in the manner of the disbanded Planning Commission, the amount of food a person below the poverty line would be entitled to eat. Far worse must be the latest development that the essay of the Burdwan East administration to rectify this imbalance has now hit the reefs.
The Burdwan (East) Zilla Parishad had, barely three months ago, forwarded Rs 17 lakh towards nutrition as an initial assistance in favour of the district ICDS cell. “We have been told to give a pause to the project and we have no idea about its fate,” is now the lament of ICDS officials.
The scenario is distressing in East Burdwan, if the survey report prepared by the district administration is any indication. It has listed as many as 391 children, below the age of five, who were suffering from malnutrition till July 2018, with Memari block alone reporting 33 cases, followed by 28 in Jamalpur block.
Till 22 July, 53 children were admitted to the Nutrition Rehabilitation Centre (NRC). The facts and figures are self-explanatory. The midday meal scheme is the poorer and at the cost of the child’s health. To put it bluntly, he is entitled to know why he is being deprived of nutrition. A sample of the nutrient food has been sent to the state headquarters, but with no response thus far. Has nutrition been junked?