New Delhi: In an attempt to address malnutrition in the state, the government of Gujarat has decided to include toor dal (Pigeon Pea), a source of protein and other nutrients in the list of groceries that are sold at subsidised rates through the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Act, 2013. While talking to NDTV about the new initiative of the state government to help the poor increase their protein intake, Vibhuti Parmar, a senior official at the Department of Food and Civil Supplies said,
Malnutrition is a big public health concern in Gujarat and because of this, the state government has decided to give toor dal to more than 60 lakh poor families WHO are eligible under the Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) that provide ration to the poorest of the poor families and those who are Below Poverty Line Ration Card holders. Toor dal is widely used in Gujarati households and since it is largely a vegetarian state, this dal is an important source of protein and other nutrients for them.
The initiative was announced by the State Finance Minister Nitin Patel while presenting the state budget for the financial year 2020-21. According to Ms. Parmar, one kilogram of Toor dal will be given to each beneficiary per month at concessional rates. For this, the state has made a provision of Rs. 287 crore for the coming financial year.
However, as per Neeta Hardikar, director, Anna Suraksha Adhikar Abhiyan, a campaign organised in Gujarat by activists and experts for right to food, the new provision is too small to make any difference in the nutrition status of the people. She said,
Considering that the problem of hunger and malnutrition is widespread in our country, there is definitely an urgent need to add lentils and indigenous grains in PDS in all states. We have been continuously demanding for this. While the government has taken a step towards this, it is too late and too small. How can just one kg dal per month per household make any dent in the nutrition status of the people? It should have been at least 5 kgs per household keeping in mind the average size of household to be 4-5 members.
She further says that to fight malnutrition in the state, the state government should start introducing a protein-rich diet in anganwadis as well. She added that the state government of Gujarat must also take measures to strengthen its mid-day meal scheme.
Current Provisions Under PDS In Gujarat
Currently, the state has provisioned for five items to be sold at ration shops- cooking oil, sugar, salt, wheat and rice. Out of this, wheat and rice are subsidised by the central government and are provided to people eligible under AAY and those who belong to Priority Households (PHH) such as homeless, marginal farmers, persons with disabilities, and widows. The other three items are provided at subsidised rates by the state government to people who belong to households that are BPL, AAY and PHH.
Ms. Parmar also said that the state has also started working on food fortification, a process of adding micronutrients to food under POSHAN (Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nourishment) Abhiyan. The state is currently providing fortified rice in Narmada District.
Status Of Malnutrition In Gujarat
According to the Comprehensive Nutrition Survey 2016-18 of the government of India, about 39 per cent of children in Gujarat below the age of four are stunted. While responding to a question in the state Assembly on Thursday (February 27), Vibhavari Dave, Minister of State for Women and Child Development, informed the house that there are more than 3.8 lakh (3,83,840) malnourished children in the state. This indicates a sharp increase of 2.41 lakh malnourished children since July 2019 when Minister Dave informed that the state had 1.4 lakh (1,42,142) children suffering from malnutrition.
Anaemia is also high among children and women in the state, as per the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 (NFHS-4). The Survey shows that almost 62.6 per cent children in the age group 6-59 months are anaemic which is worse than the national average of 58.6 per cent. The state, as per the survey, is also performing poorly in fighting anaemia among women when compared to the national average, as 54.9 per cent women in the age group 15-49 are anaemic while in the country it is 53.1 per cent.