Speaking at a day-long consultation on ‘Public Investment in Nutrition: Challenges and Opportunities in the New Fiscal Architecture in India’ UNICEF India Representative, Louis Georges Arsenault stated that presence of 29% stunted children in India is a silent emergency.
The consultation was organised by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) in collaboration with UNICEF. Senior government officials, nutrition experts and public finance specialists participated in the day long deliberations to discuss some important issues pertaining to public spending for nutrition.
Louis Georges Arsenault also added that strong political will with a sense of urgency is needed for tackling the problem. Alok Kumar, Nutrition Advisor, NITI Aayog pointed out that due to higher magnitude of untied resources flowing to states now, Centre’s leverage with states has gone down.
Talking about the new National nutrition strategy being worked upon by NITI, he invited ideas to deal with challenges around measurement of data, convergence issues and a choice of having different state models or a uniform overarching one. Citing examples of states and countries where things are moving ahead with regard to nutrition, Amarjeet Sinha Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural development said that ‘development is the best contraceptive’.
He pointed out that if we follow evidence based analysis of what works and what does not, we can fight the problem better. Former bureaucrat S B Agnihotri reiterated the need to carry out evidence based analysis of what is driving under-nutrition and suggested that interventions focusing on different aspects of the problem of nutrition need to be mapped and linked for better results.
Saba Mebrahtu, UNICEF discussed what needs to be done to reduce the problem of malnutrition. She said that with 47 million stunted children in the country, economic growth alone will not show significant improvement and a long term vision is required. There should be emphasis on identifying issues and challenges across a range of sectors which require greater attention in the policy framework. V Ramani, Former Director General, Maharashtra State Nutrition Mission highlighted that malnutrition has to be approached from a multi-sectoral perspective. Purnima Menon IFPRI stated that when a service is labelled ‘universal’ it should be budgeted for accordingly.
ICDS has been successful in reaching out to the targeted groups in some pockets, however, it was also felt that there are gaps in the scheme which need to be addressed on priority. Given the greater autonomy to the states, they now have an opportunity to redesign some of the existing schemes and also introduce new schemes that are more suited to local needs. The need now is to evolve more ways to engage with state capitals rather than focusing at the Centre. Priority to these sectors can be achieved only through greater advocacy with the state governments. Sudipto Mundle, member of the Fourteenth Finance Commission elucidated that the Commission did not increase total transfers as percentage of shareable pool, it only increased the untied component of this pool.
He added, "We need to recognise that human development is equally important, along with infrastructure development. It is about training the community about child caring practices and building the capacity of community workers about child feeding processes. It’s more about properly structuring nutrition programme, and can be done in campaign mode. While budgeting for nutrition, we also need to incorporate the demand side perspective. Large scale community ownership of schemes will help improve nutrition outcomes on the ground.”