There are no two opinions that milk is a complete food containing practically every nutrient required for normal health. Its protein, Casein (3.5%) is one of the highest quality nutrients, next only to egg and meat while milk is one of the richest sources of Calcium, an essential building material for strong bones ( about 120 mg per 100 ml). Besides milk is also a good source of Vitamins like A, B6, B12, C,K,D,K, E, Thiamine, Niacin, Biotin, Riboflavin, Folates and Pantothenic acid. Ideally regular consumption of about 250 ml equivalent of milk a day can be expected to boost the nutritive value of the daily diet very significantly. Looking from the milk production landscape and availability for consumption, average Indian is supposed to be consuming 276 ml of milk per day which is more than what is recommended. If this is so Indians can be considered healthy. But what is the ground reality?
It is true India is the top milk producing country in the world to day with the production estimated around 130 million tons which is anticipated to go up to 170 million tons by the year 2020. The per capita availability figure hides more than what it reveals because in a state like Punjab with affluent population almost gulping a liter of milk per person a day, the same falls precipitously in few other states dropping to almost to 100 ml per day per capita. Even here well to do population with high income consume much higher quantity while poor and low income people cannot afford to buy the recommended minimum quantity due to economic compulsions. This is a classical case of low consumption among plenty!
The operation flood program and the white revolution ushered in by late Dr V.Kurien provided the foundation for producing more than that required through technological, social and management wonders but unless the purchasing power of people is increased the milk cannot reach those who really deserve, suffering from utter malnutrition and morbidity. With the processing capacity of the cooperative dairies all over the country reaching all time high, each state milk federation is flush with milk, not knowing what to do with the surplus. To some extent fluid milk is converted into skimmed milk powder (SMP) with long life and limited market off take has created a situation where these federations are holding large stocks of SMP not knowing what to do with it. A state like Karnataka which gives Rs 4 per liter to the producer as monetary incentive for increased production has found a new way to "dispose off" the surplus milk by being "magnanimous" in buying the same for supply to school kids in government and aided schools studying from class I to X and also to Anganwadi centers to feed children between the ages 3 and 6 years. A win-win situation indeed!
According to the reports appearing in the media government has launched its ambitious Ksheera Bhagya scheme on 1 August this year under which each school attending kid is given in the morning before the start of the school 150 ml of milk procured from the nearest cooperative dairy or 20 gm of SMP for reconstitution with hot water (with no sugar) for drinking. Besides Anganwadis are supposed to be provided with adequate quantity of SMP at the rate of 15 gm per child for admixing with hot water before feeding them. According to some sources in the government total requirement of milk would be around 7-8 lakh liters per day out of which 50% could be in fluid form, rest being SMP. Measured by any yardstick this is a mammoth welfare scheme that will benefit 65 lakh school going children and 35 lakh beneficiaries in Anganwadi Centers. State administration has even thought of children below 3 years to whom milk is planned to be delivered to their homes!
Financial out go on the above account for the government is estimated to be of the order of about Rs 1500 crore annually. For a government that wants to uplift the nutritional status of the children of the state the above amount may not be very high but what bothers many observers is the logistics involved in delivering the promised food in safe condition to the beneficiaries in time and potential for hijacking the much valued milk and milk powder for the purpose other than that is intended. Also questionable is the extent of impact such a project can create on the health of the children. According to the nutritional guidelines of ICMR, an average consumer is supposed to be taking about 250 gm of milk products every day as fluid milk and curd which is equivalent to about 30 gm of powder. Growing children will need more considering their active growth phase and it may be too much to expect any thing positive coming out of this experiment. Supplying milk three times a week is also not a good idea as this will provide a disincentive for school kids to absent themselves on days when milk is not provided. However one should not prejudge this scheme and critics must wait for at least an year before drawing their daggers against this populist scheme.
A serious worrying factor is whether safe potable water will be available in all the schools for reconstitution purpose. If not, this scheme could be an invitation for disaster as it happened in Bihar where 23 innocent kids had to loose their lives because of poison contaminated midday meals served to them. Similarly SMP does not have indefinite shelf life and if they are not stored properly they can be affected by infestation with insects compromising its safety. One of the posers to the government of Karnataka was whether all children will drink plain milk without sugar as making kids drink milk is a problem in almost all households world over. With exposure to products like Horlicks, Boost, Bournvita etc will the kids agree to drink just plain milk? It is indeed a million dollar uncertainty that has to be expected.
Another poser is whether all the kids are to be covered as many of them must be coming from reasonably well to do families having the wherewithal to access milk daily. An alternative could be to segregate children based on their weight-height parameters and health status and offering a higher quantity every day to only those really deserving. This can stretch the resources a little more with possibility of higher impact within a short span of time. An uncertainty that may face the scheme is whether this is going to be a permanent feature of the state policy or just a short term program to tide over the immediate milk glut being experienced in the state. With general election not very far away there is a possibility that the Ksheera Bhagya scheme may face the axe once the elections are over!