Delhi: Kids go hungry even as foodgrains rot in overflowing godowns

POVERTY AND NUTRITION - I

Before the pandemic forced closure of all schools last March, children could at least depend on the mid-day meals provided by their schools. Now, they don't know when they will get there again. Representational image by AkshayaPatra Foundation from Pixabay

Delhi has two groups of poor, who are not getting enough to feed their children. One are those who have a ration card. The other is the migrant worker, with no ration card, as they cannot furnish address proof.

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Kriti Rani and her two children, a son and daughter, fall in the first type. She has a ration card for her family of four. “But I am not getting anything from the last month against my ration card,” says Kriti. “Till then I used to get rations twice a month—totally 12 kgs of wheat and 8 kgs of rice, for Rs 50 totally”. She buys whatever vegetables she can afford. Far from enough to provide the needed nutrition needs of her two children.

Before the pandemic forced closure of all schools since last March, Kriti Rani’s children could depend on the mid-day meal provided by their Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, a co-ed government school  in Ghazipur in east Delhi. Sometimes daliya, sometimes chawal-dal, sometimes rajmah-chawal, at other times poori-subzi, and khichdi.

The mother does not know how fresh or nutritious they were, but her children would tell her what they ate on a given day, that it was delicious, or “theek tha”.

Representational Image by AkshayaPatra Foundation from Pixabay

Now, Kriti does not know whether her kids will ever again get the mid-day meals or the rations in lieu of that. “For the last one year, I am not even getting the money (school fees) in my children’s passbooks,” says Kriti. “The present ration is not enough for us. I buy rice pulses, oil, masala etc from the market. The ration store used to give me a kilogram of chana dal once in two or three months. The shop now charges Rs 10 for the small packets of salt, masala etc. I get more quantity and at a better price in the other shops so I don’t buy these from the ration shop any more”.


Read more: Neither food nor food allowance for hungry school kids in Delhi since March (citizenmatters.in)


Noodles preferred

A domestic help at three or four homes in the NCR, Kriti, 36, earns Rs 7000 a month. Her husband has never worked and every time she has tried to set him up in some business, she has had to give up her job to make it work. So she continues to be the only bread winner in the family.

She buys milk daily from the Mother Dairy– Rs 21 a packet of half a litre of double-toned milk. Once a week she buys Maggi noodles because “it is easy for the children to make it on their own, my 11-year old Seema makes the lunch these days.”

Since Kriti leaves her place at 6.30 a m, her children make their own breakfast and lunch– she does not even know what they make, but feels there are days when they don’t bother to cook and eat. Since she stays near a wholesale vegetable market, her children get to eat vegetables in one meal: “Today (Jan 13), their lunch will be rice with sarson ka sag”.

Kriti feels her children are “normal” in terms of health, and she has not had to take them to the doctor in a long time. She has not had them weighed, or had their height checked.


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Worse off than before

But appearances can be deceptive. Five years ago, 36% of children in India were underweight, according to the 2015-16 National Family Health Survey 4. The NFHS 5, released by Health Minister Dr Harshvardhan on December 15th, revealed that child nutrition indicators have not improved since the last survey! Quite the contrary, the proportion of underweight children increased in 10 of the 22 states /UTs which were covered in the first phase of the survey.

These survey figures pertain to pre-COVID, mid-day meal times. But given all the anecdotal evidence of the plight of migrant labour not getting rations, there is every reason to believe that more children go hungry and are malnourished now than before. 

The lives of a majority of the urban poor in the NCR are similar to that of Kriti, Sagar and Seema, all working as domestic help. They have a ration card that gets them the basic carbohydrates they need in the form of rice and atta, but they get pulses, their major, often only source of protein, only occasionally. They buy seasonal, locally grown vegetables whose prices are low enough for them to afford. But it hurts them most whenever the prices of onions, tomatoes and potatoes shoot up.

Though they mention dal, along with roti or rice, the moong or arhar or chana dal are a very small portion of their diet. Dals cost about Rs 100 a kilo in most shops here and the PDS ration shops do not give it to them regularly, despite all the official promises.


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Overflowing godowns

The Food Corporation of India that procures and manages the buffer food grains stock of the government of India had as on January 11th, 189.69 lakh MTs (metric tons) of rice, 342.90 MTs of wheat, and 404.21 lakh MTs of the recently procured paddy in unmilled form. The stock also includes 3.20 MT of coarse grains like millets.

In 2020-21 so far, 15562.33 tons of wheat and 20595.09 tons of rice have been pumped into various programmes under the National Food Security Act. The mid-day meals in schools is one such.

In December 2020, across the country, 11054.29 MTs of wheat was distributed under the scheme for primary school kids and 18202.52 MTs for upper primary kids. But many states have shown zero offtake from this. Delhi has however availed of 830.13 MTs for primary standard children and 3217.27 MTs for the upper primary classes.

The same month, (December 2020), the offtake of rice across the country for primary standard mid-day meals was 95840.69 MTs, while 93006.97 MTs went to feed children in the upper primary classes. Interestingly, rice has seen high offtake in most states.

About Vijaya Pushkarna 31 Articles
Vijaya Pushkarna is a journalist based in New Delhi. She was formerly Deputy Bureau Chief, Delhi at The Week.