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Budget 2021: Experts Analyse What The Budget Did For Food And Nutrition Schemes

Budget 2021: Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, announced the Union Budget for the financial year 2021-2022, and released estimated budget expenditure for various nutrition programmes

Budget 2021: POSHAN 2.0 And Increased Budget Estimate For Mid-day Meal Scheme And Food Subsidy
  • FM Nirmala Sitharaman released Budget 2021; announced launch of POSHAN 2.0
  • Budget estimate for mid-may meal is less than revised estimates of 2020-21
  • Budgetary allocation for PDS has seen a drop of 42.5% when compared to RE

New Delhi: On February 1, 2021, Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Corporate Affairs, announced the Union Budget for the financial year 2021-2022, and released estimated budget expenditure for various nutrition programmes of the government like mid-day meal scheme, public distribution scheme and others. For a budget that had health and well-being as one of the key pillars, let’s take a look at the budgetary allocation for some of the key government programmes that aim to tackle India’s food and nutrition needs.

Also Read: Budget 2021 Highlights: Key Announcements Made By FM Nirmala Sitharaman For A Swachh And Swasth India

Dr Sujeet Ranjan, Executive Director, Centre for Food and Nutrition Security, said,

India is not just fighting COVID-19 outbreak but is also battling existing undernutrition in the country. The data from NFHS-5 (National Family Health Survey) phase 1 reveals that India has not fared well in the nutrition indicators in the latest survey and may have lost some of the gains made in the last few years. We know that malnutrition is a complex condition that can involve multiple factors. Nutrition specific interventions need to be targeted more to reduce multiple forms of malnutrition. The Budget 2021 has given a road map to boost the efforts and adopt the agenda of nutrition in a mission mode.

Mid-day Meal Scheme

The mid-day meal programme, run by the Ministry of Education erstwhile 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. As per the Ministry of Education, 11.59 crore children are enrolled under the mid-day meal scheme.

Also Read: What Ails India’s Mid-Day Meal Programme?

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 and 2020-21, Rs. 11,000 crore was allocated. This year, the budget estimate has been allocated to Rs. 11,500 crore.

Talking to NDTV about the improvement in budgetary allocation for the mid-day meal, Dr Dipa Sinha from Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi, said,

Any increase in the budget estimate is good but if we compare it with the revised estimate for 2020-21, it is still less. In 2020-21, the budget estimate was revised from Rs. 11,000 crore to Rs. 12,900 crore. If the estimated spending was higher last year then why are we planning to spend less this year?

Allocation to mid-day meal has been reduced by 10.8 per cent in comparison to the revised estimates of 2020-21.

Ruchika Chugh Sachdeva, Vice President- Nutrition, Vitamin Angels, global public health nutrition organisation, said the budget estimate for mid-day meal for 2021-22 is less than the revised estimate for 2020-21 but the focus also needs to be on the nutrition quality of the meals. In a conversation with NDTV, Ms Sachdeva said,

For many, it is the only wholesome meal they have it during the day. Mid-day meals as per the government’s recommendations need to be provided to all the kids in the age group of 5-14 years. These need to contain at 50 per cent of a child’s daily requirement of lifesaving vitamins and minerals which is currently not happening.

Also Read: How SuPoshan Sanginis Are Spreading The Idea Of Nutrition And Supporting POSHAN Abhiyaan

Public Distribution System

Public Distribution System (PDS) was established under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution to provide food and non-food items like wheat, rice, salt, pulses, spices, kerosene oil to the poor at a subsidised rate. 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. The budgetary allocation for PDS has not been consistent over the past few years.

In 2018-19, the total food subsidy of Rs. 1,69,323 crore was estimated and in 2019-20 budget, it was increased to Rs. 1,84,220 crore. However, in the following financial year that is 2020-21, the budget estimate for food subsidy dropped to Rs. 1,15,569.68 crore. But if we compare it with the revised estimate for 2019-20 of Rs. 1,08,688.35 crore, then the budget estimate was better.

For the current financial year (2021-22), food subsidy of Rs. 2,42,836 crore has been allocated for. Again, from a bird’s eye view, it looks like there has been an increase in the budgetary allocation but when compared to the revised estimate of 2020-21, there has been a drop of 42.5 per cent.

Also Read: How Has COVID-19 Impacted The Nutritional Status Of India’s Children? An On-Ground Report From Non-Profit Organisation CRY

The revised estimate for 2020-21 increased to Rs. 4,22,618.14 crore from the budget estimate of Rs. 1,15,569.68 crore. According to expenditure profile released by the Ministry of Finance, the variation is due to increased expenditure on food subsidy and for decentralised procurement of food grains. Dr Sinha’s assessment says that the increase in the budget does not reflect the higher distribution of subsidised grains. In fact, it shows the government is paying back Food Corporation of India’s (FCI) debt.

In her budget speech, FM clearly stated that the enhanced allocation includes the loans provided by the government to the FCI. She said,

I propose to discontinue the National Small Savings Fund (NSSF) loan to FCI for food subsidy and accordingly budget provisions have been made in RE 2020-21 and BE 2021-22.

As on March 31, 2020, FCI has NSSF debt of Rs. 2,54,600 crore.

Under PDS, the government had introduced ‘One nation, one ration card scheme’ in January, 2020. Through this scheme, beneficiaries can claim their rations anywhere in the country. In her budget speech, FM informed about the status of the scheme and said,

Migrant workers in particular will benefit from this scheme – those staying away from their families can partially claim their ration where they are stationed, while their family, in their native places, can claim the rest. I am happy to inform you that One Nation One Ration Card plan is under implementation by 32 states and Union Territories, reaching about 69 crores beneficiaries that is a total of 86 per cent of the beneficiaries. The remaining 4 states and UTs will be integrated in the next few months.

Also Read: All You Need To Know About ‘One Nation, One Ration Card’ And Its Impact On Public Distribution System

Saksham Anganwadi And POSHAN 2.0

To strengthen nutritional content, delivery, outreach and outcome, the government has decided to merge the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and POSHAN Abhiyaan and launch Mission POSHAN 2.0. Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0 will cover the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme – Anganwadi services; national nutrition mission or POSHAN Abhiyaan; scheme for adolescent girls; national crèche scheme.

The 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. Until 2020, the ICDS Scheme used to have a separate budget but now it will come under the ambit of POSHAN 2.0. As per the budget document, an expenditure of Rs. 20,105 crore has been estimated for Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0.

The launch of a new initiative called Mission POSHAN 2.0 was announced by FM Sitharaman. She said,

To strengthen nutritional content, delivery, outreach and outcome, we will merge the Supplementary Nutrition Programme and the POSHAN Abhiyaan and launch the Mission POSHAN 2.0. We shall adopt and intensify strategy to improve nutritional outcomes across 112 aspirational districts.

Also Read: Can India Piggy Bank On Food Fortification To Achieve The Goal Of POSHAN Abhiyaan?

Dr Sinha believes there is not much clarity on the conversion of supplementary nutrition programme and POSHAN Abhiyaan as the later was always implemented under ICDS. Avani Kapur, Director of Accountability India, Research group studying India’s public service delivery, also believes the same and wrote, “To some degree POSHAN Abhiyaan was the operationalisation and admin related wing of ICDS.”

Additionally, Dr Purnima Menon, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute) is of the opinion that 112 aspirational districts are not enough to resolve the undernutrition challenge among children.

Also Read: 53 Per Cent Of Children In India Are Not Growing Well Due To Lack Of Access To Food And Nutrition, Says A UN Report

According to some other experts, the merger of schemes is a good move but the guidelines and how these schemes will be rolled out will give a clearer picture. Lauding the merger of the schemes, Binu Anand, National Team Leader, WeCollaborateforNutrition (WeCan), IPE Global, said, improved outcomes are expected. He added,

NFHS-5 phase 1 data clearly indicated an upward trend in the services requiring inter-departmental convergence such as the provision of high-quality Supplementary Nutrition Programme, improving IFA (Iron-folic acid) coverage and compliance, ensuring accessibility, availability, and affordability of diverse diets, especially for women and children.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana or maternity benefit programme and child protection services – the two schemes that used to be a part of ICDS have been moved to a different umbrella.

Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana along with other women empowerment programmes now come under the umbrella of ‘SAMARTHYA’ that has got an estimated budget of Rs. 2,522 crores.

Child protection services have been clubbed with Child Welfare Services and added under the header ‘Mission VATSALYA’. The mission has been allocated an estimated budget of Rs. 900 crores. In 2020-21, the budget estimate for child protection services was Rs. 1,500 crores and was later revised to Rs. 821 crores.

Also Read: Budget 2021: Experts’ View On Mission POSHAN 2.0 Announced By FM To Improve Nutritional Outcomes

NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene

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