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COVID-19: 'Helpless' Gujarat govt can't supply midday meal, ICDS food to children

By Pankti Jog*
Following the coronavirus outbreak, the government declared closure of all schools and anaganwadis of Gujarat. While this is an essential preventive measure, evidence suggests, it has excluded lakhs of children, pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls from nutrition support they were getting from the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
At the same time, lakhs of children between six and 14 who were getting hot cooked food under the midday meal (MDM) scheme are being left in the lurch, without any alternative nutrition support.
While the government claims it is fully aware of under-nourishment status among women and children of Gujarat, there is little to suggest that alternative nutrition support system has been created.
In the normal course, ICDS is supposed to provide hot cooked food three times a day, including milk. Take home ration is given to extremely malnourished children, in addition to three times serving.
Take home ration (ready to cook packet) is given to pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls, and also to children between six months to three years. With anganwadi centres closed, all of this has been put to a grinding halt.
Activists from civil society organizations working on health and nutrition have tried to contact officials in the Woman and Child Development department of the Gujarat government to ensure that ICDS and MDM are made operational, but it seems the department is helpless.
While everyone is aware that the entire state is currently focusing on the coronavirus epidemic preventive measures, one cannot deny the possibility of severe illness due to undernourishment.
As against Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Kerala are distributing ration from schools or from fair price shops after schools closure
State authorities do not seem to understand that undernourished children are more likely to catch infection and illness. By ignoring nutrition needs of children and women, the state government is, in fact, taking a huge risk.
Similarly, when schools are closed, little has the government thought about the daily food requirement of children. Most of the children coming to government schools are from lower middle class and deprived families. With complete lockdown, deprived communities are facing acute livelihood crisis.
In such a situation, children from these families need extra support. Other states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala have come up with ration distribution from schools or from fair price shops (FPS) immediately after the closure of schools was announced.
There appears little understanding in government circles that nutrition support (MDM or ICDS) are not welfare schemes, which can be run or closed as per availability of resources, or the capacity of the administration. These are legal obligations under the National Food Security Act, 2013 and responsibility of the state.
Recently, the Supreme Court issued an interim order to all the states in a suo motu writ petition, giving instructions that an alternative arrangements to be done by the state to continue nutrition support to the underprivileged. The order is dated March 18, 2020, yet till date is no initiative to comply with the apex court order.
Ironically, on entering the the ICDS website, the first thing one noticed till recently was Poshan Pakhwada (nutrition week) celebration from March 8 and 22!
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*With Mahiti Adhikar Gujarat Pahel, Ahmedabad

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