Sunday, October 2, 2011


Agreed, lately India has attained notoriety with many scams under investigation but India is also a land of schemes where there are hundreds of programs funded by the governments at the Center as well as in various States. All government schemes have the avowed objective of uplifting the status of the citizens, especially the poor and down trodden ones with no hope for a secure future. Of course whether the money, in billions of rupees booked to the public exchequer, really reaches the beneficiaries is a matter of speculation though the estimated diversion or looting of the resources may be any where from 40-100% of the budgeted amount! Social activists still take heart from the fact that at least some are benefited to some extent, believing in the old adage that "some thing is better than nothing" ! A pitiable state of affairs where decent citizens are forced to condone misappropriation of public funds having no other option but to acquicise! ,

Here is the latest Scheme under the centrally sponsored projects under the banner of "Sabala" which appears to be thought of with noble intention, viz helping females between the age of 11 and 18 to develop into responsible future women with multiple skills and good health. As a first step the scheme is expected to be launched as a pilot trail in 100 districts across the country with a budget of Rs 1000 crore for the current financial year 2011-2012. Once the concept of this scheme is proved to be effective GOI is expected to provide adequate funds to spread the same through out the country. Though details about the program are not yet available, one must admire the intention behind this action because nutrition needs of females change dramatically during this period of growth when they attain puberty and under nutrition and anemia are rampant among this vulnerable group. Added to this the country is in an unenviable position with one out of four girls dropping out of the school during early stages of education and child marriages are very common in many states. The Scheme is all the more praise worthy considering that many families shun girl child if they can help and ultra sound screening to day is common for determining the sex of the child during early periods of pregnancy with temptation for abortion very high.

Sabala scheme, besides its emphasis on health and nutrition, also envisages development of the girls into a responsible woman with focus on upgrading the skill level to equip them with earning capability and improving the home environment with better welfare activities, family health and hygiene. While 100% of girls dropping out of the school between the age 11 and 15 will only be covered, those between 15 and 18 are expected to be fully covered. It is not clear why such a distinction is made though it might be due to the fact this age group is vulnerable to early child bearing with its attendant undesirable consequences in the long run. Considered from any angle this is a gigantic scheme with vast resources being pumped in and extra precaution, better management practices and close monitoring can only achieve even a fraction of the targets set for the scheme.

It is interesting that GOI is willing to shoulder 100% of the expenditure on non- nutrition component of the program but wants the States to share 50% of the expenditure on the food component. Whether health and nutrition will suffer because of the reluctance and economic weakness of the States, that some of them may default on their commitments to share the expenditure on this count is a valid concern. The ceiling limit of Rs 5 for the food component for each beneficiary may be too small to deliver any meaningful food qualitatively and quantitatively and like the mid-day meal program Sabala scheme may also suffer to achieve any tangible result. It is not realized by GOI that good nutrition cannot be envisaged with just food grains but inclusion of pulses, fruits and vegetables in the menu is a must to raise the health status of the beneficiaries. Depending on Anganwadis to deliver the food service also may be fraught with many uncertainties and whether the girls will queue up for cooked foods of indifferent quality in these feeding centers remains to be seen.

A strategy based on ready to eat foods with extended storage life should have been conceived in stead of hot cooked foods served every day at feeding centers. There will be opposition from vested interests because manufacture and distribution of pre-packed RTE foods will have far lesser scope for pilferage and misappropriation of scheme funds by those managing the same. Fortifying cereal based food preparation with proteins, vitamins and minerals as is being done in some food products supplied for applied nutrition programs may not be the best way to deliver "nutrition" and this should have dawned on the planners who came out with the Sabala scheme from past experiences. Food scientists will confirm that Milk and or egg can be the best nutritious source and it must be left to the food technologists to come up with shelf stable products requiring no cooking for such mass distribution programs. If the cost is higher there is no alternative but to increase the outgo on the food component to meet the need.


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