In a state with a high incidence of protein-deficiency driven malnutrition and over 6 lakh malnutrition related deaths over the last five years, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s order to keep eggs off the Anganwadi menu in the state has been greeted with dismay by child development experts.
Mr. Chauhan announced last month that “ours has been a tradition of vegetarianism and there is no place for eggs in the schools and Anganwadis of the state”, directing officials to withdraw eggs from Anganwadis and schools of the state.
However, Anganwadi Centres in and around the state’s industrial capital Indore, are refusing to give up the “egg” advantage which they have been using successfully to bring down malnutrition levels among children of the region.
In fact, District Collector Raghvendra Singh is making every effort to ensure the availability of eggs and milk to children suffering from Severe and Acute Malnutrition (SAM).
“On the basis of consistent demand from the community, we have made provisions for the availability of eggs and milk to SAM children,” says Mr. Singh.
“Procurement is done at the community level and we have not asked for any financial assistance from the state government. The results have been very encouraging and a lot of SAM-level children have been brought to normal nutrition levels,” he says.
But what about the Chief Minister’s order?
“We have not received any such directive from the government. Once that happens, we will have to follow it,” he says.
This correspondent visited Anganwadis in three village panchayats around Indore, namely Simrol, Choral and Gwalu, where interactions with the community, including the village Sarpanch and Anganwadi workers, revealed that the use of eggs in children’s diet had brought significant improvements.
Over a five-month period from March to August, 4132 children suffering from severe and acute malnutrition from these panchayats were provided eggs and milk at Anganwadis. Out of these, 3077 children experienced weight gain, 1452 came down to Moderate and Mild Malnutrition and 310 children completely recovered from malnutrition.
Those critical of the government order say that such an order should not be imposed in a blanket way across the state and that people should be allowed to exercise their right to choose the best diet for their children at the level of the community.
“The jaggery-gram-groundnut alternative that the government is forwarding is difficult for the malnourished children to digest because of their weak digestive system. Egg is a soft, easily consumable and digestible food and is a rich source of all important nutrients except for Vitamin C,” says Sachin Jain, State Advisor to the Supreme Court appointed Right to Food Commissioners.
“Besides, egg is easily available locally, unlike other packaged nutrition food solutions which are manufactured centrally and have fuelled corruption in Anganwadis across the state,” says Mr. Jain.
It was Women and Child Development minister Ranjana Baghel’s plan to provide malnourished children with eggs and milk under the government’s soon to be launched “Atal Baal Aarogya Mission”.
The plan was reportedly rejected by the CM after opposition from a particular religious community and three cabinet ministers, namely water resources minister Jayant Malaiya, school education minister Archana Chitnis and rural development minister Gopal Bhargav.