The Congress has had a 9 + year stint at the center when they passed the Food Security Bill. There were many reasons why Congress never appeared convincing through the whole debate.
First was the fact that they had not made enough provision in the Budget for the FSB.
Next they tried to explain this by saying that States were already spending money and FSB was only a consolidation of this. And that the additional expenses would be very little.
This gave their game away. There was nothing new in the exercise.
Second was the fact that it was a State Subject. So each State would have to restructure their existing PDS to suit the FSB. Some states were already doing much better than what the FSB promised. These States would be in a quandary. They cannot go back on their current schemes.
But most importantly, the FSB promised very little. Small quantity of Food grains at highly subsidised prices. But the target population gave away their game. It would be unfair to say that 50% of Urban and 75% of Rural population could not afford even the food grains being provided by the Government. The only explanation could be that majority of population was spending more on food which left very little for their higher needs. But then do poorer families spend more money on food grains or on more nutritious foods including vegetable / milk etc?
I would assume that food grains just fill your stomach and keep you alive. A growing child especially would need more nutritious food. I remember a *Dennis the Menace* cartoon that i saw probably in the eighties. It must have been even older. Dennis who has pain in his right leg, asks his mother who gives him a tablet, “But how does the pill know which leg to cure.” There is a major lesson to learn in this cartoon.
Initial treatment used to be to reduce the pain by dulling the brain. Under those circumstances you don’t have to worry about the organ. But to treat the disease you would have to use a specific chemical that would again target the problem. If it was isolated to a specific area, localised treatment would be preferred. This is all the more necessary for treating say, Cancer where the treatment could cause severe damage to normal cells. Now technology has improved so much that very little collateral damage (to normal cells) need be suffered.
The solution to the Undernourishment in the Country should be viewed similar. Obviously the Government cannot take care of the entire need of 66% of the population. Therefore it has to prioritise.
Another scheme of this Government is to provide Iron tablets to school going children. Iron deficiency is a serious problem and needs a solution. At the same time, absorption of Iron is also extremely difficult. This is the reason why we see repeated news of children vomiting and falling sick after taking iron tablets.
Today Government targets all children irrespective of
- whether they are iron deficient or not.
- whether they can afford treatment on their own or not.
Undernourishment is not only because of poverty. Data shows that undernourishment is prevalent even among non BPL classes. The Government need not subsidise the non BPL at the cost of more needy.
When Government targets entire population without excluding the Non deficient kids or those kids that can afford treatment, they are forced to buy much more than needed to treat only deficient kids who cannot afford treatment on their own.
As the available resources are limited, the result is that cheaper Iron tablets are purchased. Without becoming overly technical, tablets could be cheap ferrous sulphate that the body would find very difficult to absorb or other salts on the kreb’s cycle which would be easier to absorb. The better choices would obviously be costlier.
Also Iron has two valencies – Ferrous & Ferric. Only ferrous can be consumed.
Again on the day the kids consume iron tablets they would be better off with good sumptuous food. If only this Government understand this and concentrates only on the most needy set of kids they can provide much better treatment to them rather than spread themselves thin.
Another solution to the problem would be provision of fortified food. Iron is available in nature in Spinach. Rahul G has made it famous now among the Chatterati too. But as a friend on twitter said, Homegrown Spinach used to be consumed by most people till recently. Now most of that is gone.
But what the Government could do is to supply wheat flour only with fortification. This is nothing new. For some time all salt has been fortified with iodine. Sweet balls made of flour again fortified with iron can be part of mid day meals. This used to be a part of mid-day meal in Tamilnadu.
Part 2 of “Why FSB is not convincing?” will be published soon.