New Delhi: From mid-day meal scheme, public distribution system, Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) to government’s flagship programme POSHAN Abhiyaan, India has a whole lot of food distribution programmes and nutrition schemes. Together these schemes aim at eradicating hunger, ensuring food security and making India a healthy nation. Every year the Union Budget allocates a substantial amount to these schemes. Today, as Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, presented the budget for the financial year 2020-21, we take a look at the trend in money allocated to these nutrition programmes over the last few years.
Mid-day Meal Scheme
Mid-day meal programme, run by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), is considered to be the world’s largest school meal programme serving hot and freshly cooked meals to emaciated children. Time and again cases of malpractices and slippages in the food being offered to children have made headlines, but it remains one of the pivotal welfare schemes of the government. In 2018-19, the Mid-day Meal (MDM) scheme reached out to 9.17 crore children studying in 11.35 lakh schools across the country.
If we look at the money allocated to the MDM scheme, for two consecutive financial years – 2013-14 and 2014-15, Rs. 13,215 crore was allocated. But in the following year 2015-16, the budget allocation dropped to Rs. 9,236.40 crore. The steep drop was soon followed by an upward graph. Year after year, the budget estimate for mid-day meal scheme rose and in the year 2019-20, Rs. 11,000 crore was allocated. The budget allocation remains stagnant this year.
Also Read: What Ails India’s Mid-Day Meal Programme?
Over the years, although the budgetary allocation for the MDM has increased by small margins, the scheme still continues to remain plagued by shoddy implementation and lack of monitoring. Religion and caste interests have affected the possibility of inclusion of eggs in the meal. Anti-egg resistances are a repeated occurrence, mostly in the states under the ruling party. More recently, reports of mid-day meal violations from Uttar Pradesh have been no less than appalling. We seem to find no rightful justification for a stagnant budgetary allocation given the fact that even these other problems continue to remain unaddressed, read the statement on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign, an informal network of organisations and individuals committed to the realisation of the right to food in India.
Public Distribution System
PDS or Public Distribution System was established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to provide food and non-food items to poor at a subsidised rate. The PDS comes under the umbrella of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) of 2013 primarily focused at providing nutritional support to women, children, and poor. Under the PDS, items like wheat, rice, kerosene, and others items are offered through a network of fair price shops.
Department of Food and Public Distribution is responsible for ensuring food security through procurement, storage, and distribution of food grains, and for regulating the sugar sector. If we look at the budget allocated to food subsidy, it has not been steady. While in the financial year 2018-19 Rs. 1,69,323 crore was allocated, in 2019-20 the budget estimate for allocation was up 8.79 per cent to Rs. 1,84,220 crore.
But for the upcoming financial year that is 2020-21, the money allocated to food subsidy has dropped by 37.26 per cent and has come down to Rs. 1,15,569.68 crore.
#Budget2020 – Such a drastic cut in food subsidy – from 1.84 lakh crore 2019-20 BE to 1.08 lakh crore in 2019-20 RE to 1.15 lakh crore 2020-21 BE – What's going on?? what will happen to FCI and what is the future of PDS? @rozi_roti
— Dipa Sinha (@sinhadipa) February 1, 2020
This amount is not sufficient for even making the entitlements provided under the NFSA available to all eligible beneficiaries. Such under-allocation over the last few years has resulted in the FCI being under huge debt and the government increasing its interest burden. We worry that this will now be used as an excuse to curtail the PDS benefits or dismantle it entirely, read the statement on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign.
Dr Dipa Sinha, Right to Food Activist believes that one of the best ways to combat food inflation and hunger is by releasing the food through Public Distribution System (PDS). She says,
Currently, the states are hoarding on food. The economics says that when the supply is low, demand rises followed by increase in prices. What we can do is, release the stored grain through PDS, this way poor people will be able to get basic nutrition. We can either expand the coverage of PDS or the quantity distributed under PDS. The release of food supply will bring down the prices as well. Also, pulses and oil should be included in PDS.
Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS)
The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme is a programme for early childhood care and development and benefits children in the age group of 0-6 years, pregnant women and lactating mothers. The ICDS Scheme offers a package of six services that are supplementary nutrition; pre-school non-formal education; nutrition and health education; immunization; health check-up; referral services. Together the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Health a Family Welfare offer these services with the objective of breaking the vicious cycle of malnutrition, morbidity, reduced learning capacity and mortality.
Under the umbrella of ICDS, come different schemes like Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana (PMMVY) – maternity benefit program; anganwadi services; national nutrition mission or POSHAN Abhiyaan – government’s flagship programme to improve nutritional outcomes for children, pregnant women and lactating mothers; and others.
To address the needs of ICDS scheme under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, in the Union Budget for 2018-19, expenditure of Rs. 23,088.28 crore was estimated. While in the financial year 2019-20, the budget allocation increased to Rs. 27,584.37 crore, in 2020-21, it further accentuated to Rs. 28,557.38 crore.
Under the ICDS scheme, the major improvement in the money allotment has been recorded in the National Nutrition Mission. The estimated budget allocation has increased from Rs. 3,400 crore (2019-20) to Rs. 3,700 crore (2020-21). Says, Basanta Kumar Kar, Recipient of Global Nutrition Leadership and Transform Nutrition Champion Award,
Nutrition budget allocation of Rs. 35,600 crore as proposed in the Union Budget 2020-21 is a welcome move. I think the budget provides the scope and opportunities for nutrition sensitive interventions in a substantial way. If implemented well, it can address protein hunger and micronutrient malnutrition popularly known as hidden hunger through diversifying both production and farming system which includes nutrition rich horticulture and agricultural crops, poultry, fishery production, and others.