Ideas and Action for a Better India
Sudheendra Kulkarni, Chairman, Observer Research Foundation Mumbai
Yesterday my good friend T.V. Mohandas Pai, eminent philathropist and one of the founders of Akshya Patra Foundation (also well known as ex-director of Infosys and currently chairman of Manipal Global Education) released an important study on a highly neglected problem of social development in urban India : undernutrition among slum children.
Malnutrition and undernutrition are generally seen as problems prevalent in tribal areas. This isn’t true at all. It is quite rampant among children in the poorest families in Mumbai’s slums. What is even less recognised is that undernutrition is aggravated by the shockingly poor conditions of sanitation and water supply in slums. The ill effects of these factors (which are called “nutrition-sensitive factors”, as against “nutrition-specific factors” in academic parlance) on the healthy growth of children are far more marked in illegal slums than in legal slums.
These are the findings of a meticulously researched study titled ‘MUMBAI’S SHAME: How undernutrition and poor sanitation are stunting the growth of children in Mumbai’s structured and unstructured slums’, which has been conducted jointly by the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai (Orf Mumbai) and the M.B. Barvalia Foundation. It is authored by my colleague Rachel D’Silva, in collaboration with Dr. Nitin Kothawade and Dr. Mihir Maher.
A few shocking facts that were highlighted in the panel discussion on the occasion of the release of the report:
1) Nearly 50% of the food provided to children in slum schools in Mumbai under the government-run Mid-Day Meal programme is thrown away because it is of poor quality and mostly tasteless and monotonous.
2) Corruption is rampant in the way the government runs the Mid-Day Meal programme.
3) Many women’s self-help groups (SHGs), which cook the Mid-Day Meal, complained that the concerned government authorities rarely make payment on time.
4) Even the Akshaya Patra Foundation is yet to receive a whopping amount of Rs. 30 crore from governments in various states.
As against this infuriating reality, here is a heart-warming fact:
Akshaya Patra Foundation, which started with feeding only 1500 school children in the year 2000, today provides highly nutritious mid-day meal to over 12 lakh school children in seven Indian states. Its goal is to feed 50 lakh school children by 2020.
To hear Mohandas Pai, who is a mesmerising speaker, describe the evolution of this world’s largest mid-day meal initiative was itself a rich food for thought. It strengthened the resolve of all those who were present at the function to work for the realisation of the dream: HUNGER-FREE INDIA!