At least 15 per cent of the 1.49 lakh children aged up to six years screened during a drive conducted by the Women and Child Development department in Nandurbar in July has been found malnourished. The drive, the first since the coronavirus outbreak, also found that 7.9 per cent of the children in the age group in Melghat and 2.3 per cent in Palghar were malnourished.
While the three tribal districts have historically reported maximum cases of malnutrition in Maharashtra, officials have pointed out that the higher numbers could be linked to the lockdown since March, which affected nutrition programmes across the state.
According to Women and Child Development department, of the 1.49 lakh children up to six years screened in Nandurbar, 3,710 were found with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and 18,644 with moderate acute malnutrition (MAM). Dr Nitin Borke, Nandurbar district health officer, said the increase in malnourishment is likely because of the return of local migratory population from Gujarat and other parts of Maharashtra.
Latika Rajput of NGO Narmada Bachao Andolan, meanwhile, said the malnutrition numbers were worse between March till June when ration supply was delayed.
In June, the state government stared home-based Village Child Development Centre programme for SAM children. Under the programme, earlier SAM children were offered six meals a day in an anganwadi. Since June, anganwadi workers were supposed to take the six meals to each severely malnourished child’s house.
In Palghar, where 2,857 children have been detected undernourished during the July screening, Pravin Bhavsar, deputy Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) officer, said: “We noticed a 1-2 per cent rise in malnourishment here. We have started providing energy-dense nutritious food packets to severely malnourished children.”
The findings in Nandurbar, specifically, coincides with an inquiry underway into the district’s procurement procedure of ration during the lockdown. A state-appointed committee, in its report submitted to the Tribal department on Tuesday, has also pointed that delay of ration at various levels during lockdown led to a loss of nutrition and dietary value among children aged up to six years.
“The delay was maximum in remote and inaccessible parts of Nandurbar. We did find dietary losses in children because of the delay in Amrut Aahar Yojna,” a member of the state-appointed committee said.
APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Aahar Yojana provides free meals to tribal children and pregnant, lactating women. With freshly cooked meals not possible due to closure of anganwadi since March, the state had allowed locally purchased ration to be supplied to children.
In Nandurbar, a Pune-based agency was given a contract for supplying ration. In remote areas, like Dhadgaon and Akkalkuan, the ration reached in May, almost two months later. Observing “irregularity in procurement procedure” the state committee has further directed CEO of the Zilla Parishad in Nandurbar to conduct an inquiry at ground level as to why the Pune-based agency was appointed to distribute ration in the entire Nandurbar.
“Till that inquiry is complete, we have halted all payments to the supplier,” said Anup Kumar Yadav, Secretary, Tribal department.
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