Chief Minister Narendra Modi at an election rally in Ahmedabad on November 19.
MALNUTRITION is one of the main campaign issues in Gujarat even if the aim is to embarass Chief Minister Narendra Modi for his views on the high rate of malnutrition in the State.
Modi told an international daily in the recent past:
“Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian State. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class State. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious—that is a challenge. 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.’” Modi’s detractors were quick to criticise him, and so was a large section of the Gujarati press known to otherwise favour him.
As a part of a damage-control exercise, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched a nutrition week before the code of conduct for the election kicked in and repeatedly claimed that Modi was quoted out of context.
The malnutrition situation is bleak, says a highly placed bureaucrat. “Gujarat is peaking some areas of development, mainly infrastructure and urban sectors. However, 45 per cent of the children under five years in the State are underweight and more than 55 per cent of the women are anaemic. These are also crucial indicators of a State’s development.”
The opposition parties are obviously milking controversy in their campaign. “Modi has been unsuccessful in dealing with education and health. His statement is not only a joke, but also an insult to the women of Gujarat,” said Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia.
“The most anaemic women are among the tribal people. Are they beauty conscious?” he asked.
Former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel said over 70 per cent of Dalit and Adivasi women in Gujarat suffered from malnutrition.
“Are they dieting to walk the ramp? It was Modi’s government that reduced the food given at midday meals and so we see those consequences now,” he added.
In February, the State Health Department presented some grim facts at a conference called the Chintan Shibir. In Gujarat, under-nutrition contributes to more than one-third of all deaths of children under the age of five; green leafy vegetables form less than 20 per cent of the diet of the majority of the people; production of cereals and pulses has fallen and as a consequence families do not have access to enough foodgrains. Additionally, the government’s malnutrition programmes are focussed on the age group of three to six years , while the degree of malnutrition is the highest among children up to two years.
According to the last National Family Health Survey (NFHS), the percentage of underweight children in the State actually went up between NFHS-2 (1998-99) and NFHS-3 (2005-06). The NFHS yields relatively recent data on malnutrition in the State.
According to NFHS-3 data, 47 per cent of children below the age of three in the State are underweight. That figure was 45 per cent in NFHS-2.
The percentage of Gujarat’s children who are “wasted” also went up from 16 to 17 per cent between the two NFHS surveys. In the hunger index released last year, Gujarat was placed 13th among the major States, below Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Assam.
Ironically, this is the State where the White Revolution began and continues to thrive.
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