Shocking 64,681 Kids in BMC Malnourished, 1 in 3 Affected: Praja Foundation

Extensive data accessed by Praja Foundation and compiled into a report shows that two decades after midday meals were introduced in city schools, one out of every three children studying in a municipal school is malnourished. Worse is the fact that in the same period, , the utilization of midday meal budget fell from 81% to 65%, though the money earmarked increased by several crores. Only Over 50% of the malnourished were actually sent to clinics.  The data further showed that the undernourishment of students in these schools is accelerating with the incidence showing a four-fold jump over the last three years.

Representation Image       Source: Express photo by Tabassum Barnagarwala

The report is a shocking indictment of Mumbai, being the financial capital of India and speaks poorly of the Mumbai Mahanagar Palika run by bureaucrats and politicians, the richest corporation in India.

Why have the incidents of malnutrition increased six times from 2013 to 2016? The figures accessed by NGO Praja Foundation show that among screened students in BMC schools, the number of malnourished kids increased from 11,831 in 2013-14 to 53,408 in 2014-15, and further to 64,681 in 2015-16. Malnourishment af fected more girls (35%) than boys (33%) in 2015-16.

Govandi, which houses a large percentage of Dalits and Muslims is at the very bottom of Mumbai’s development index and its not surprising that this suburb tops the starvation list.In this ward, one of every two schoolchildren has been malnourished in the past three years. In 2015-16, Govandi was followed by H East (Khar, Santacruz East) and Kurla, with 9,100 and 6,586 malnourished children. Data obtained under an RTI query point to severe undernourishment of children studying in civic schools in Mumbai.

Nitai Mehta, founder of Praja Foundation which obtained the figures, said a huge crisis seems to be unfolding in the BMC schools. “We have sourced the numbers from BMC's own school health programme. It clearly shows that they are not looking at their own data. All agencies of the government, which are linked to the subject of child nutrition, must tackle this problem urgently ,“ he said.

 The data showed that the percentage of undernourished children is the highest in the 1st and the 2nd standards, meaning children aged 6-7 years are the worst affected. “It raises a very important question about the efficacy of nutrition schemes such as the one run by the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) through anganwadis for children between 0-6 years. If the scheme was working optimally, we won't have so many malnourished children coming to schools,“ said Milind Mhaske of Praja. He added that this could also be a reason behind the growing cases of diarrhoea in the city . An assessment of the data reveals that a little over 50% of the children were referred to BMC clinics and hospitals for treatment. The fact that health almost never features on the priority list of leaders is a known thing. The RTI has further reiterated the point by showing that in 2015-16, councillors have asked only 16 questions on the issue. Successive councillors from the worst-affected M East ward have asked only five questions highlighting malnutri tion in the last three years.
BMC's executive health officer Dr Padmaja Keskar told The Times of India that she would have to study the data before commenting on it. “We carry out the health checks annually . The moment our team finds that a child needs care, we immediately refer them to our tertiary hospitals such as KEM, Sion and Nair,“ she said.

 The data on malnutrition among school children is shocking, to say the least. If government is unable to organise an efficient nutrition program for underprivileged students within Mumbai where better facilities and support staff are likely to be available, one dreads to think what the state of affairs would be outside the city. No wonder Maharashtra's tribal belts



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