March 31, 2012, Kamayani Bali Mahabal

The Prime Minister  Manmohan Singh has recognized the harsh reality of malnutrition in India by saying “India‘s “unacceptably high” levels of child malnutrition are a “national shame”. Our State women and child welfare minister  Varsha Gaikwad  in the assembly’s winter session  last year in Nagpur  admitted on the floor of the house that only 68 children were dying daily in Maharashtra , and our State Health  Minister, Suresh Shetty walks “ 1000” steps against  Malnutrition. (

Last Saturday, on March 24,  Mr Suresh Shetty with his vast  z- security , Page 3 celebrities and Bollywood stars , came together in their best dresses ,coming together after a hearty breakfast , at  the posh area of  South Mumbai, Nariman Point‘s NCPA complex ,  to  participate in the 1000 Steps walk  sponsored by Nestle and Times to India , to underline the importance of nutrition for mothers and their children, right from conception to the first two years of life.  One will  not find a soul on a Saturday mornings, except building  Guards.   The people who reached were the  Elite living around Nariman Point, Colaba, Marine Drive for a 1000 Steps Walk. But who were they walking for ? Were those people  there ? How absurd can you be, holding a march against malnutrition at Nariman point ?

A walk sponsored by Nestle, what am I missing here  ? Sponsoring what  Cerelac and  Lacotgen  for the participants ? Our Health Minister did not know that on March 19th , Delhi  Metropolitan Magistrate , after 17 years has charged Nestle India for violating the law (Infant Milk Substitutes Feeding Bottles, and Infant Foods (Regulation of Production, Supply and Distribution) Act.) in advertisements and labelling of its infant food products. Does our Health Minister know that  its important to enforce this law to protect mothers and children from the commercial influence.The Infant Milk Substitutes Act was brought in to regulate production, supply and distribution of infant milk substitutes, feeding bottles and infant foods to protect and promote breastfeeding and ensure the proper use of these food products.

Nestle through their products – Lactogen and Cerelac – had violated several sections of the Act by not printing the notice ‘mother’s milk is best for your baby’ in Hindi and also by not printing the warning that ‘Infant milk substitute or infant food is not the sole source of nourishment for an infant’ on the containers of Lactogen. The  warning was not printed in the size prescribed and all the mandatory information was not present in advertisements .

The march if at all ,  should have been  diverted to  Govandi, as same day same time there was a huge public meeting on the issue of Malnurtition co organsied by  Anna Adhikar Abhiyan, Anna Adhikar Abhiyan, Maharashtra, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Jan Arogya Abhiyan,  there.   Govandi  where more than 75%  of  its population lives in slums and the  Human Development Index (HDI) is the lowest in the city, at a mere 0.2.  Healthcare is inadequate; the population per hospital is nearly 66,881. It has the highest infant mortality rate (IMR) in the city — nearly 66.47 deaths per thousand births, where Mumbai’s average is 40 per 1000 births.

Forty-five-thousand children die of malnutrition every year in the state, according to ‘A report on nutritional crisis in Maharashtra’ by the Pune-based organisation Sathi-Cehat. One-third of adults are underweight, and 15% severely underweight. The report points out that chronic hunger is not confined to rural areas, as is popularly believed; urban populations in coastal regions, including the city of Mumbai, have the highest prevalence of calorie deficiency (43%) in the state. Calculations made using the per-consumer-unit-calories norm of 2,400 in rural areas and 2,100 in urban areas reveals that the incidence of calories-based poverty is 54% in rural areas and 39.5% in urban areas

The Maharashtra government had planned to bring down the number of malnourished children in the state by providing them with packaged food. The idea might have been noble but the government, it seems, forgot to run quality checks. As a result, the food supplied is substandard and the number of children dying of malnutrition has gone up substantially.  The State government statistics peg the number of children (0-6 years age group) who died of malnutrition between January and August  2011  as  18,486. The figure for the same period in 2010 was 12,792. So, this means 5,694 more babies diedLst  year.

 Investment  Rs 300 crore were spent in Maharashtra  for Take homes Ration ( THS ) scheme and the Returns-40% of children in Mumbai with low birth-weight.

Take Home Ration (THR) scheme has been a failure. Health workers mostly pay out of their pockets to clear unused THR. The food packets supplied as THR (Take Home Ration) are devoid of any nutrition and taste. Children and parents are reluctant to take these raw food items home, as they are made of low-grade ingredients, which get spoilt in a short period of time. Last month these packets were thrown by people  in garbage after finding fungi and termites in them.

THR scheme is way short in calories, also children between six months and three years can barely accept the food: sheera, upma, sattu and sukhdi (meant for adolescent girls). Of the four, sheera is the most important as it is recommended for and given to severely malnourished children at least thrice daily. In one of the series on malnutrition it was reported by DNA ” A nutritional analysis test  on the food provided by Anacon Laboratories Pvt Ltd, Nagpur, showed 3g of protein and 42 calories less (sample size was 100g) than the amount mentioned on the packets. Upma and sukhdi had 75 and 70 calories less.”

So, instead of  walking “1000 steps”,  Mr Suresh Shetty you should provide home cooked food to children between age of 0 -6 in Angawadis,  Disband the THR Scheme and  Implement the ICDS scheme for children, in true letter and spirit.  and I hope next time  , MP Priya Dutt  and Bollywood stars like  Amole Gupte ,  Konkona Sen Sharma and  Tara Sharma , when accept any invitation on a cause  I hope they reach out to the People affected, rather  than  a  mere tokenism , So how does this idea sound Sir ji ?