In the Union Budget 2023-24 presented on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted the importance of Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) in ensuring food and nutrition security for over 800 million people during the pandemic years. With the depletion of food grain stocks under the Food Corporation of India (FCI) and high food subsidy bills of Rs 2.87 lakh-crore in the financial year (FY) 2022-23 (revised estimate ( RE)), it was no surprise that the distribution of additional free cereals under the PMGKAY was halted in January.
Furthermore, Sitharaman highlighted the recent announcement by the Union government to provide free food grains to all Antyodaya and priority households until December under the PMGKAY, budgeted at Rs 1.97 lakh-crore for FY24. Government policy actions aim to reduce the budget deficit to 5.9% in FY24 from 6.4% in FY23 (RE).
However, what will be the impact of this withdrawal on the nutritional security of the poor who must now buy the additional rights at market prices? Especially at a time when the two basic foodstuffs are under strong inflationary pressure (wheat recorded inflation of 22.2% and rice of 10.5% in December).
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Malnutrition is a multidimensional problem and requires multisectoral solutions, focusing on women’s education, childcare, improved sanitation and safe drinking water, in addition to access to adequate and nutritious food. . It is in this light that the budget allocation for various nutrition-sensitive programs, including women’s education, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), etc., should be understood.
The Integrated Child Development Program (ICDS), now known as Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0, is allocated Rs 20,554 Crore in FY24, a meager increase of 1% from to revised FY23 estimates. In contrast, the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (the Midday Meal Scheme) saw a decline in budget allocation to Rs 11,600 crore in FY’24 from Rs 12,800 crore in FY’23 (RE). With the reopening of anganwadi schools and centers following the pandemic-induced closure, the total allocation allocated to the midday meal program saw a 25% increase in the revised FY23 estimates compared to its budget estimates .
The budgetary expenditure for women’s education under Samagra Shiksha, a comprehensive school education program under the National Education Mission, is Rs 37,453 Crore for FY24 (barely 0.2% more than the previous year’s budget estimates). Total allocation for SAMBAL scheme (including Beti Bacho, Beti Padhao scheme) was Rs 562 crore in FY24 – same as 2022 budget estimates. FY23, approximately 41% of the SAMBAL program budget allocation was underspent. Instead, the best policy option would be to provide liberal scholarships and financial incentives to reduce dropout rates among female students, especially at secondary and higher education levels.
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Another important sector for malnutrition is WASH. There is a remarkable increase in budget allocation to Jal Jeevan Mission and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in FY24. However, about 30 percent of the budget allocation under Swachh Bharat (Rural) Mission were underutilized in FY23. Despite an increase in improved sanitation coverage (48.5% in 2015-16 to 70.2% in 2019-21) and drinking water (94.4% in 2015-16 to 95.9% in 2019-21) according to NFHS-5 data, the nutritional status of tandem women and children did not experience significant improvement. Even today, India experiences extremely high levels of undernutrition, with 35.5% of children under five suffering from stunting. Moreover, there is a large inter-regional disparity in child stunting rates, mainly clusters in the districts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.
It is important that nutrition-sensitive programs begin to focus on behavior change and raise awareness about healthy sanitation practices, nutritious diets, child care practices and their links to nutrition. Clearly, piecemeal efforts by governments to improve access to women’s education, child health care and WASH facilities have failed to achieve the original goal of reducing child stunting ( aged 0-6) to 25% by 2022 under POSHAN Abhiyan.
The Union Budget 2023 has tightened its purse strings for POSHAN, which could further derail India’s progress in achieving holistic nutrition for women and children. Until the government urgently addresses the multidimensional determinants of malnutrition through targeted, region-specific interventions, India is unlikely to be able to overcome the security challenges. nutritional.
Shyma Jose is a Fellow at ICRIER (Twitter: @shyma_jose), and Kriti Khurana is a PhD student, BITS-Pilani, Hyderabad (Twitter: @kritikhurana12)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DH.)
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