The Government of India has failed in achieving the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) target to reduce stunting by at least 2 per cent per annum, according to a United Nations report released on June 25.
The present rate of reduction in child stunting, a measure of chronic malnutrition, is 1 per cent per year, which is the slowest among the developing nations.
At this rate — by 2022 — 31.4 per cent children will be stunted, which is significantly higher than the target set by the government under NNM, that is, to lower the number to 25 per cent.
The report titled Food and Nutrition Security Analysis, India, 2019 was prepared by the UN World Food Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation to give a clear picture on the availability of food stock and economic capacity of the population to access food, among other issues.
The report added that the yields in food grains have increased by 33 per cent over the last two decades, but the increase in per capita net availability of food grains is far lower. The consequences of this trend can be observed in the nutritional uptake among the lowest 30 per cent of the income class, whose average per capita consumption of energy is 1811 kcal/day, much lower than the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) norm of 2155 kcal/day.
NNM Budget Cuts
In 2017, Modi government’s cabinet approved the allocation of a total of ₹9,046.17 crore to the National Nutrition Mission which was to be rolled out in three phases from 2017-18 to 2019-20.
The objective of the mission was to reduce the level of stunting, under-nutrition, anemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth weight babies. The mission was targeted to benefit more than 10 crore people.
However, the Union Budget documents of the three-year period would reveal a different story about how the actions of Modi government do not seem to match their words.
In 2017-18, the NNM budget was ₹ 1,500 crore, out of which only ₹ 892.77 was spent, constituting a reduction of around 37 per cent. Subsequently, in 2018-19 and in 2019-20, the NNM budget was ₹ 3000 crore and ₹ 3400 crore, respectively.
It can be observed that the total budget allocation for the three financial years is significantly lower than the amount that was earlier approved by the cabinet.
Is Modi Government Serious About Achieving SDGs?
People belonging to low-income groups, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes are among the most affected groups who face the consequences of these budget cuts — which can again be seen in the statistics put forth in the UN report.
Also read: India Has Failed Its Children, Tops in Stunting and Wasting
The rates of stunting are significantly higher among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, which are 42.5 per cent and 43.6 per cent, respectively.
On June 20, in a press statement, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) expressed serious concerns about the “deplorable public health infrastructure in the country” and further observed the failure of State in fulfilling its constitutional duty under Article 47 to raise the level of nutrition and standard of living of its people.
India is also a signatory to the UN resolution named ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. The resolution includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and associates 169 targets for countries to achieve till 2030.
Being committed to the 2030 Agenda — an inclusive growth in general and the second SDG in particular, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” — should be a priority for the second most populous country in the world.
However, with serious cuts in the budget for schemes, and further negligence in implementing them, only time will tell how serious the Modi government is about achieving the targets they claim to have committed to.