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Modi's Gujarat "laggard" in fight against malnutrition, says The Economist quoting unpublished Unicef report

By Our Representative
A week after top British weekly The Economist quoted an unreleased United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) report to say that Gujarat slipped to 21st position in child immunization, it has further revealed from it that states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP appear to be “laggards” in the fight against malnutrition “compared with several states that are (or were) under the control of rivals.”
Pointing out that “this may be coincidental but true for the last one decade”, The Economist (July 4) quotes from the same report, Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) again, by again offering the “most sensitive example” of Gujarat, which, it says, “Modi has touted as a model because incomes there are high”, comparing with Maharashtra, ruled by Congress till recently.
The Economist says, “The RSOC shows that the proportion of hungry children in Gujarat fell from 44.6% to 33.5%”, but that remains worse than the national average of “less than 30%.” On the other hand, it adds, “Maharashtra next door has similar incomes and has fared much better.”
Identifying Maharashtra as “a wealthy state on the western coast”, The Economist says, its case is “revealing”, as “its proportion of children there who are underweight fell from 37% to 25%.”
The influential weekly says, “Gujarat is also worse than average for stunting (42%), severe stunting (18.5%) and wasting (18.7%). Nearly two-fifths of its population defecate out of doors.”
As against the poor show of Gujarat, The Economist refers to Maharashtra as a “good example” of how to deal with malnutrition. The weekly says, it identified “four crucial changes there: better and more frequent feeding of infants, more care for pregnant women, higher household incomes and a rise in the age at which women begin having babies.”
It adds, “Officials and politicians in Maharashtra played a crucial role by helping to target worst-afflicted groups such as tribal people known as adivasis.”
Accusing the Government of India for “sitting on the report for months, though it has been ready since at least October”, The Economist says, “One rumour suggests official concern about the quality of the data, but UNICEF has voiced no such worry. Another possible reason is the pride of India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, who ruled Gujarat for a dozen years.”
After stating this, The Economist declares, “The new data indicate his relatively prosperous state performed worse than many poorer ones.”
Recalling Modi indifference towards malnutrition in Gujarat, the weekly says, “Asked about child malnutrition in Gujarat in 2012, Modi told the Wall Street Journal that it was a middle-class, vegetarian state, and that: ‘The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious...If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat’.”
It comments, “Some found that answer about as satisfying as a cardboard biryani. Amartya Sen, an economist and Nobel laureate, says Modi does not provide strong leadership on health policy. He notes that spending on health care fell in this year’s national budget. India devotes barely 1% of GDP to it, far behind China, for example.”
The RSOC survey involved 210,000 interviews across 29 states and territories in 2013 and 2014; more than 90,000 children were measured and weighed, as well as 28,000 teenage girls.

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