The country’s audit watchdog, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), has flayed the Gujarat government for discontinuing the “Antyodaya Anna Yojana” (AAY) that supplied fortified wheat flour for overcoming micro-nutrient deficiencies in a state that has a poor malnutrition record, especially among children.
In April 2006, the state government had introduced distribution of fortified wheat flour in place of wheat under the AAY in Ahmedabad city on an experimental basis to overcome micro-nutrient deficiencies, which was expanded to the rest of the state in April 2010, CAG pointed out in a recent report on the state’s ‘General and Social Sector’ tabled in the Assembly.
“Though the use of fortified wheat flour was cost-effective and increased intake of micro-nutrients, the state government discontinued the project on May 2012 after incurring a total expenditure of Rs 210 crore,” the report stated, pointing out how the state government had failed to fully utilise the Additional Central Assistance of Rs 27 crore provided by the Government of India on March 2010 and had refunded Rs 5.04 crore in December 2012.
The state government attributed non-availability of flour mills, milling capacity, testing facility to ensure the actual mixed quantity of soya, iron, folic and other micro-nutrients as the reasons for discontinuing with the programme. The state also pointed out complaints from people regarding insects in fortified flour, etc.
However, CAG has dismissed the reasons cited by the Gujarat government. “The reply was not acceptable as instead of making efforts to overcome the hindrances on implementation of the scheme, the state government opted to shut it down. Further as per a case study, substitution of fortified wheat flour had increased intake of micro-nutrients, reduced 94 per cent of inadequate iron intake among PDS (Public Distribution System) beneficiaries and according to WHO criteria, this programme was highly cost effective,” stated the auditor in its remarks.
That is not all. CAG also found “improper implementation” of the Annam Brahmam Yojana that was launched by the state government in January 2009 in pursuance to a Supreme Court order (of Octber 2002) that put the onus of prevention of starvation and malnutrition deaths on the states.
Under this programme, the state government was meant to provide 10-15 kg of food grains, free of cost, to people who had no ration card and belonged to a specific target category (very poor, handicapped, orphan, bed-ridden at hospitals, street children, etc).
In its report, CAG observed that as against the targeted distribution of 2,250 quintals per annum of food grains, only 241 quintals (11%) were distributed in 2009-10, 487 quintals (22%) in 2010-11 and 480 quintals (21%) in 2011-12. “Food grains under the scheme were not distributed in 19 districts in 2009-10, 13 districts in 2010-11 and 18 districts in 2011-12 and five districts in 2012-13. This indicated that the Mamalatdars/DSOs failed to identify maximum beneficiaries, defeating the very purpose of the scheme,” the report added.
The auditor was particularly harsh on the state government for its slackness towards the Village Grain Bank (VGB) scheme that was introduced in November 2006 to offer safeguard against starvation during the period of natural calamities or during lean agriculture season. GoI sanctioned 354 VGBs (2006-08) and released a one-time cash component of Rs 43 lakh and 1,416 metric tonne of food grains.
“However, of the 61 VGBs sanctioned in 2006-07 for Porbandar and Banaskantha districts, only 24 were in existence at the end of March 2013. Thus, 37 VGBs ceased to exist and no action was initiated by the state government to revive them. Hence, the objective of setting up these VGBs was defeated,” CAG observed, adding that the state government had not formed 12 VGBs for Dahod and Panchmahal districts.
State has over 8 lakh malnourished kids
There are over 8 lakh malnourished children in Gujarat, the Assembly was informed. According to figures tabled in the State Legislature Assembly on Friday, there are over 8.44 lakh children, who are underweight as per ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services), as on December 31, 2013. Of these, 62,500 children are severely underweight, informed the state government in a written reply to an unstarred question by Congress MLA Tejashree Patel.
Strangely, Vadodara had the highest number of children — over 65,800 — who are underweight as per the ICDS norms for malnourishment. The district also has an additional 5,900 children who are severely underweight.
The tribal district of Dahod, along with the state’s most urbanised district of Ahmedabad, has the second and third highest number of underweight children, respectively. While Dahod has 56,600 underweight and 3,500 severely underweight children, Ahmedabad has 55,500 underweight and 5,700 severely underweight children, the state government figures revealed.
Similarly, the districts of Banaskantha has 55,400 malnourished children, Sabarkantha has 53,300 and Panchmahal 55000.
The reply also talks about state government schemes like Mission Bal Sukham that is being run to address the grave issue. The government has also been providing “Nutri-candy”, fruits (twice a week), to children between the age group of 3-6 years in anganwadis. Children in tribal areas are also given milk twice a week, the reply added.
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