Speaking at a day-long consultation on ‘Public Investment in Nutrition: Challenges and Opportunities in the New Fiscal Architecture in India’ UNICEF India Representative, Louis Georges Arsenault presented the shocking statistic that 29% of stunted children are in India and likened it to a silent emergency.
The consultation was organised by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in collaboration with UNICEF and saw earnest participation by senior government officials, nutrition experts and public finance specialists in the day long discussions relating to public spending for nutrition.
Louis Georges Arsenault also added that not only a strong political will but a sense of urgency is needed for tackling this problem. Alok Kumar, Nutrition Advisor, NITI Aayog pointed out the administrative problem that with a higher magnitude of untied resources flowing to states, Centre’s leverage with states has gone down.
Former bureaucrat S B Agnihotri reiterated the need to carry out evidence based analysis of what is driving under-nutrition and suggested that interventions focusing on different aspects of the problem of nutrition need to be mapped and linked for better results.
Saba Mebrahtu, UNICEF pointedly spoke on what needs to be done to reduce the problem of malnutrition. She said that with 47 million stunted children in the country, economic growth measures alone will not yield significant results and a long term vision is required. There should be emphasis on identifying issues and challenges across sectors which require greater attention in the policy framework.
While the Integrated Child Development Services scheme has been successful in reaching out to the targeted groups in some pockets, it was also felt that there are gaps in the scheme which need to be addressed urgently. Given the greater autonomy to the states, they now have a hitherto unavailable opportunity to redesign some of the existing schemes and also introduce new schemes that are more suited to local needs. Hence the need to engage meaningfully with state capitals rather than focusing at the Centre.
Sudipto Mundle, member of the Fourteenth Finance Commission said, "We need to recognise that human development is equally important, along with infrastructure development. It is about training the community about child caring practices and building the capacity of community workers about child feeding processes. It’s more about properly structuring nutrition programme, and can be done in campaign mode. While budgeting for nutrition, we also need to incorporate the demand side perspective. Large scale community ownership of schemes will help improve nutrition outcomes on the ground.”
Image Courtesy: FirstPost India
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