NEW DELHI: In September 2017, Niti Aayog had adopted National Nutrition Strategy (NNS), aiming to achieve “Khuposhan Mukt Bharat” (Malnutrition Free India) by 2030. But it seems that BJP-ruled states have a different ‘strategy’ and it is guided not by health requirements, but ‘sentiments’.
An investigation carried out by IndiaSpend.com reveals that 14 out of the 19 states ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are resisting the inclusion of eggs in the menu of mid-day meal at thousands of schools for reasons related to the “sentiments of vegetarians”.
The research questions as to how India will combat malnutrition while it is already home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world.
It is based on a report prepared by Swati Narayan, a research scholar and an activist with the Right To Food campaign, who recently mapped the inclusion of eggs in mid-day meals in schools and anganwadis across India using government data and media reports. The map looks at links between political ideology and the provision of eggs in these meals.
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16 data, 7.5% children under five years of age are severely ‘wasted’. Also, the Global Nutrition Report 2017, which looked at 140 countries including India, found our country is facing a serious burden of under-nutrition. Several nutritionists also say that eggs as primary sources of protein are helpful in addressing malnutrition among children because scientific research shows that animal-based protein is better than plant-based protein.
Now the question is: Why most of the BJP-ruled states have excluded eggs from mid-day meal menu?
Ideology behind Exclusion of Eggs
Officials in the BJP-governed states say they are more concerned about ‘offending’ the ‘sentiments’ of vegetarians.
“In Gujarat, most of the population is vegetarian. Additionally, we provide pulses daily in mid-day meals as protein-rich food, hence we don’t serve eggs,” RG Trivedi, commissioner (mid-day meal scheme) in Gujarat was quoted as saying.
This argument is despite the fact that Gujarat with 39.30% is among country’s top five states with significant percentage of underweight children. Four other states are Jharkhand (47.8), Bihar (43.9), Madhya Pradesh (42.8) and Uttar Pradesh (39.50).
In Himachal Pradesh too, officials gave the same reason.
“We do not give eggs because of religious and cultural issues. People in Himachal Pradesh consider eggs non-vegetarian and there are children whose parents would have problems if we served them. To avoid controversy, we don’t,” Naresh Sharma, nodal officer for mid-day meal scheme in Himachal Pradesh said.
It is worth to be noted here that sample registration system (SRS) baseline survey 2014, released by the Registrar General of India, 71 percent of Indians over the age of 15 are non-vegetarian.
After analysing government’s nutrition data and speaking to several experts and government officials, IndiaSpend found the following facts:
— 14 of 19 BJP-majority states deny eggs to children in schools and anganwadis
— Only 5 of the 19 states governed by BJP or their allies (15 have BJP chief ministers) give eggs to children
— Some non-BJP states too (Punjab, Mizoram and Delhi) do not provide eggs in mid-day meals.
— Of the 10 states with the worst nutrition outcomes in India, only three provide eggs to children (Bihar, Jharkhand and Karnataka)
The states ruled by BJP or its allies that completely deny eggs in mid-day meal are Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Sikkim, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya.
Only five states ruled by BJP or allies that give eggs in mid-day meal are Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Assam, Bihar and Tripura.
The investigation found that the non-BJP ruled states that do not offer eggs in mid-day meals are more constrained by the lack of resources than religious or cultural sentiments.