New Delhi: Fighting child malnutrition is one of the key priorities of the Modi government but it appears that two different wings of the government are not on the same page on the funds required to tackle it.
The Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry had requested more funds from the 15th Finance Commission for its Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP). The scheme targets children in the 0-6 age group, pregnant and lactating mother. The commission agreed and recommended a nutrition grant of Rs 7,735 crore for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
In its interim report, the commission also said that it is of the opinion that the issue needs to be addressed and that even a delay of a year could adversely impact the future human capital of the country.
The finance ministry, however, has rejected the commission’s recommendation on the grounds that the government already runs the multi-sectoral Poshan Abhiyan, for which Rs 9,046 crore has been earmarked for three years starting 2017-18.
The finance ministry has said that any other additional grant will amount to duplication.
Confirming the move, a finance ministry official said, “The commission has recommended a sectoral grant for nutrition with some performance characteristics. We have not accepted the sectoral grant for nutrition. We already have the Poshan scheme. We are funding it. We think it duplicates.”
The official added that an additional grant is “premature”. “We have asked them to reconsider,” the official said.
The Poshan Mission
The Poshan Mission, earlier called the National Nutrition Mission, is a multi-ministry initiative led by the WCD ministry. It was launched to improve the nutritional status of children in the 0-6 age group, adolescent girls, pregnant women and lactating mothers in a time-bound manner during three years.
The Modi cabinet had approved the mission in December 2017. The scheme aims at creating synergy, ensuring better monitoring, issuing alerts for timely action and encouraging states/UTs to achieve the targeted goals.
Government sources said the WCD ministry is yet to take a call on its future course in light of the finance ministry’s refusal.
Justifying the need for the grant, the commission said that despite the Integrated Child Development Scheme being implemented for several decades, there has been no commensurate improvement in child nutrition levels.
According to the Global Hunger Index, India’s rank has fallen from 93 in 2015 to 102 in 2019 out of 117 qualifying countries.
What had WCD ministry sought from 15th Finance Commission
Currently, under the SNP, the cost norm for children in the 6-72-month age bracket is Rs 8 per day per child. For severely-affected malnutrition children, it is Rs 12 per day per child and for pregnant women and lactating mothers it is Rs 9.50 per day per woman.
The WCD ministry told the commission that these cost norms were fixed in 2017 and were less than what the ministry had recommended. “After taking into account cost indexation and the need for fortification, the Ministry has requested the Commission to provide an additional 50 per cent over the 2017 norms,” the commission said in it’s interim report.
The commission accordingly allocated an additional amount of Rs 3 per day for all the children and pregnant women and lactating mothers registered in the anganwadi centres in all the states.
The commission further said that these grants are not to be substituted for either the state share or union share and are an additionality.
“These grants should be released in two installments. The first should be by May 2020 along with the Union share of the CSS related to nutrition. The second installment should be released after effective utilisation of the first installment of all grants on nutrition (including State share) received by a State,” the finance panel said in its report.