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Full Meal or Package Deal?

With lobbying going on to replace cooked meals in the mid-day meal programme with processed foods like biscuits, this article reports on a consultation earlier this year that saw academicians, medical professionals, and nutrition and public health experts discuss the impact of providing dry rations versus cooked foods.

COMMENTARYjune 14, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly20The authors acknowledge and thank the participants of the consultation for their contributions. The authors also thank the Sir Ratan Tata Trust for the grant to the USRN School Health Project. A special word of thanks to Geetha Nambissan, project director, University School Resources Network and chairperson, Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies.Rama V Baru ( is with the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.Full Meal or Package Deal?Rama V Baru, Rajib Dasgupta, Mita Deshpande, Aparna MohantyWith lobbying going on to replace cooked meals in the mid-day meal programme with processed foods like biscuits, this article reports on a consultation earlier this year that saw academicians, medical professionals, and nutrition and public health experts discuss the impact of providing dry rations versus cooked foods.The recent moves to replace cooked meals with processed foods in the mid-day meal (MDM) and Inte-grated Child Development Services (ICDS) programmes have been opposed by net-works and alliances of scientists and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across the country. The importance of nutritional support for pre-school and school-going children has been highlighted by a long and sustained campaign by networks of individuals and organisations over the lastdecade. These campaigns have raised this issue within a rights framework and refocused on the persistence of chronic hunger among a significant proportion of children and its negative consequences for nutrition and health. Over the last few years many of the states have imple-mented these programmes by investing in infrastructure and human resources for its realisation.Undernutrition ProblemThe rationale for cooked meals arises from the unsatisfactory trends in improvements in levels of undernutrition. Based on the three rounds of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the all-India average reveals that there has been a stagnation in the percentage of children (0-3 years) who are underweight. The number has reduced in the stunted category and has registered an increase in the wasted category. While the reduction of the stunted category is positive, the increase in the proportion of the wasted category is worrying (see the figure, p 21). The all-India average presents variation across better and less developed states. For example, in Gujarat there has been a slight increase in all the three cate-gories, while in Tamil Nadu, there has been a decline in the underweight and stunted categories but an increase in the wasted category. When we study the trends for Madhya Pradesh and Bihar thecontrast with the better developed states is striking. In Madhya Pradesh the proportion of underweight has increased from 54 per cent to 60 per cent between NFHS 2 and 3, those in thestuntedcate-gory has declined but the percentage of wasted has increased from 20 per cent to 33 per cent. Similarly in Bihar the pro-portion of underweight has increased slightly; there is a slight decline in the stunted category, but an increase from 20 per cent to 28 per cent in the wasted category [IIPS 2007].The proportion of children in the cate-gory of wasted is alarming and should be recognised as a public health disaster and the government needs to address hunger, nutritional adequacy and morbidity in order to be able to reverse these trends. Some of the evidence did get reflected in the present government’s concern in the common minimum programme of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that resulted in increased financial commit-ments and the universalisation of the ICDS programme and the MDM programme.Mid-day Meal HistoryThe MDM has had a long and varying history across different parts of the coun-try. Launched as a “centrally sponsored scheme” called the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Educa-tion (NPNSPE) in 1995, to provide cooked meals it was found that most states contin-ued with dry ration provisions. The Peo-ple’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed a public interest litigation by highlighting the paradox of widespread prevalence of chronic hunger and undernutrition when there was an excess of food supplies in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India. In response to this litigation, the Supreme Court decreed, in 2001, that every child was entitled to a cooked mid-day meal consisting of 300 calories and 8-12 gm of protein per day for a minimum of 200 days in a year. The Supreme Court order had listed eight different schemes (including the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)) on food security to be implemented with theMDM scheme. In the absence of a comprehensive set of food security programmes in many states the cooked MDM remains critical for schoolgoing children. In 2003, the court had to haul up the states that had fallen behind and not been able to implement the scheme. Dreze and Goyal (2003) observed that while MDM programmes have many flaws, the


COMMENTARYjune 14, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly22delivery that is often neglected and overtaken by bureaucratic obsessions regarding expenditures and coverage.These various issues were articulated in a statement that was endorsed by several networks like Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine, Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan. Several institutions like the Public Health Foundation of India, Nutri-tion Foundation of India, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health and Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies, Jawahar-lal Nehru University, Central Institute of Education, University of Delhi and Insti-tute of Home Economics, University of Delhi also participated and endorsed the statement.Subsequently, the statement was submitted and discussions were held with the prime minister and the union minister for human resource develop-ment. Following this the prime minister reaffirmed his commitment to reduction of malnutrition and the Planning Com-mission has stated its position in favour of “hot cooked meals prepared by wom-en’s groups and members of the local community”.1 The union minister of state for human resource development, con-firming that he had received a proposal from biscuit manufacturers for serving “biscuits in place of hot cooked mid-day meals”, informed parliament that serving biscuits as part of theMDM scheme was not in the interest of school children since biscuits do not “fulfil the nutri-tional norms, dietary requirement and satiety of children and further it also deprives many intrinsic benefits that are being derived through present pat-tern of implementation”2 [Dreze and Khera 2008].This ongoing campaign with the involvement of a wide cross-section of civil society is an example of the role that such organisations can play in influencing and even reversing policy. This kind of an effort requires sustained engagement and perseverance to engage with politicians who are often driven more by corporate interests rather than scientific evidence to inform policy decisions. Notes1 The Indian Express, ‘Renuka Pushes for Pre-cooked Meals, Plan Panel Says No, Open to Misuse’, March 17, 2008.2 ‘Not Biscuits, Cooked Food in Mid-Day Meal Scheme: Minister’, accessed March 17, 2008.ReferencesBarker, D J P (ed) (1992): Fetal and Infant Origins of Adult Disease’, BMJ Books, London.Dreze, J, and A Goyal (2003): ‘Future of Mid Day Meals’,Economic & Political Weekly,November 1.Dreze, J and R Khera (2008): ‘Glucose for Lok Sabha?’ The Hindustan Times, April 15. IIPS (2007): ‘NFHS 3 Fact Sheets’, International Insti-tute of Population Sciences (accessed October 18, 2007).Martin, C A, R Carapelli, J V Visantainer, M Matsushita and N E de Souza (2005): ‘Trans Fatty Content of Brazillian Biscuits’,Food Chemistry,93(3), pp 445-48. Call for PapersConference on ‘Towards Progressive Fiscal Policy in India’The Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), a Delhi based organization analyses budgets and public policies from the perspective of the poor and the marginalized. The issues related to Progressive Fiscal Policy in India are of paramount importance at the current juncture. It would be worthwhile to have a Conference to address the relevant issues in this regard. It is proposed that for this Conference, some eminent economists and policy makers will be invited. Additionally, we hope to have other scholars working in the relevant areas and hence CBGA invites abstracts for the forthcoming conference on ‘Towards Progressive Fiscal Policy in India’ scheduled to be held on 7th and 8th November, 2008 in New Delhi.The abstracts exceeding no more than 300 words should be submitted latest by 15th July, 2008. All abstracts will be reviewed based on the suitability to the Conference, following which detailed papers will be invited from the shortlisted abstracts. The contributors for detailed papers will be communicated latest by the end of July.The writers are requested to contribute under the following broad themes:■ Relevant Macro Economic issues in general and those confronting Contemporary Indian Economy in particular■ Issues of Resource Mobilisation ■ Issues of Fiscal Federalism■ Issues of Public Expenditure■ Issues of Subsidies■ Facing Economic ImbalancesThe abstracts should reflect a judicious blend of theoretical rigour and compelling empirical evidence. The abstracts may be either mailed at or posted at: Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, A-11, Second Floor, Niti Bagh, New Delhi – 110049.All expenses related to accommodation and travel will be borne by CBGA.

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