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Union Budget Shows Govt. Apathy to Growing Malnutrition, Says Right to Food Campaign

According to noted economist Jean Drèze – if inflation is factored in – between 2014 and 2021 the allocation for ICDS has been reduced by 26% while the allocation for the Mid-Day Meal scheme has been reduced by 32.3%.
Union Budget Shows Govt. Apathy to Growing Malnutrition, Says Right to Food Campaign

Image Courtesy: Counterview

The allocation for the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) saw a sharp decline of 18.5% in the Union Budget 2021-22, from Rs 30,007.10 crores in the budget estimate for the fiscal year 2020-21 to Rs 24,435 crore for the FY 2021-22. All schemes under it, including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY), and National Creche Scheme saw a decline in allocation of funds.

In a statement released on February 3, the Right to Food Campaign, an informal network of organisations and individuals, said: “The Right to Food Campaign is dismayed to see that at a time of growing hunger and malnutrition, the Union Budget 2021 has actually reduced allocations for crucial social security schemes such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), Midday meals, maternity entitlements, and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).”

In the 2021-22 budget, ICDS and PMMVY have been clubbed with other schemes, but comparing like with like, it is clear that both programmes have been undermined,” it added.

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The above table shows that schemes under the MoWCD saw a decrease of 25.28% in fund allocation for the upcoming fiscal year. The ICDS-Anganwadi Services is the main platform for providing health, nutrition, and education to children under six years of age, pregnant and lactating women, and adolescent girls.

Speaking to the media, Dr. Vandana Prasad, a public health expert associated with various health campaigns including Right to Food, said, “The Anganwadi system is the only village-level scheme connecting women and children to any kind of entitlement.” The reduction in allocation for ICDS will mean that the most vulnerable women and children will be deprived of the only benefits they are entitled to, she said.

While schemes under the MoCWD saw a reduced allocation of funds, the amount allocated to other social security schemes did not see any significant increase either. The National Programme of Mid Day Meal in Schools under the Ministry of Education, which was allocated Rs 11,000 crore in the budget estimate for the year 2020-21, was allocated Rs 11,500 crore for the upcoming year. The allocation for the Ministry of Rural Development’s National Social Assistance Program was increased by 0.03% to Rs 9,200 crore.

The Right to Food Campaign pointed out that the children of India received only a 2.46% share of the total Union Budget 2021-22, a reduction from 3.16% in 2020-21. The share of the allocation for children for the upcoming year is said to be lowest in the last decade. The share of child development expenditure in total government expenditure was reduced from 0.8% in 2020-21 to 0.57% in 2021-22.

According to the noted economist Jean Drèze, if inflation is taken into account, one would see that between the years 2014 (the year the current BJP regime came to power) and 2021, the allocation for ICDS has been reduced by 26% while the allocation for the Mid-Day Meal scheme has been reduced by 32.3%.

Following the Union Budget, the Right to Food Campaign raised several demands before the Union Government, which include the universalisation of the Public Distribution System (PDS), continuation of provision of additional food rations under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana for another year, revival of hot cooked meals under ICDS and Mid-Day Meal scheme, universalisation of maternity entitlements, increase in the allocation for NREGA, and provision of minimum wage and decent working conditions for Anganwadi Workers and Helpers and ASHA workers.

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