CURTAIN RAISER: NHRC's Conference on Implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 in relation to children & lactating mothers and pregnant women at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi on 27th October, 2017 (26.10.2017)

New Delhi, 26th October, 2017
The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC is organising a day-long Conference on 'Implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 in relation to children & lactating mothers and pregnant women' at Vigyan Bhawan, Annexe, New Delhi on the 27th October, 2017. Mr. Justice H.L. Dattu, Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission will inaugurate the conference at 10.00 am.
The aim of the Conference is to make a State-wise assessment of the implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013 across the States/UTs with special reference to the provision of nutritional support to children and pregnant women and lactating mothers.
Apart from the inaugural and concluding sessions, the conference will have two specific thematic sessions. These are: 'Mid-day Meal Scheme for children between 6 to 14 years - steps taken, structural problems, operational issues and bottlenecks' and 'Nutritional support to pregnant women and lactating mothers and children up to 6 years'.
The participants, in addition to the Members and senior officers of the NHRC, will include senior officers from the Union Ministries, States and Union Territories dealing with the subject, Members of the NHRC's Core Advisory Group on Right to Food, representatives of other National and State Commissions, technical institutions, international organizations, non-governmental and civil society organizations working at the grassroots and subject experts.

Right to food is an essential component of right to life, which is a Fundamental Right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. As per the Article 47 of the Constitution, it is the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties. Article 21 read along with Article 47 of the Constitution makes the State duty bound towards its obligations in effective realization of right to food of people of the country.
India is an active member of the United Nations and is a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for transforming the world by 2030 have also been endorsed by the Government of India. These, 17 goals, offer a vision of more prosperous, peaceful and sustainable world in which no one is left behind. They seek to build on the 2000 Millennium Development Goals. This all the more casts an obligation on the Government to respect, protect and fulfil the right to food of every citizen of India.
SDG 1 (End Poverty), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Production) are specific goals towards ending poverty in all its forms; ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, promoting sustainable agriculture; ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns, along with its prescribed targets, thereby ushering in a new era of sustainable development. Without these, the full range of SDGs cannot be achieved. At the same time, achieving the other SDGs will pave the way for ending hunger and extreme poverty. In addition, the battle to end hunger and poverty must be principally fought in rural and tribal areas, where almost 80 percent of the hungry and poor live.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) 2005-06 reflected upon the problem of malnutrition among children and women. Recently, the findings of the NFHS-4 2015-16 reveal overall improvement of health indicators in comparison to NFHS-3 (2005-06) estimates. The estimates of the key health indicators for women and children from NHFS-4 in comparison to NFHS-3 are as follows:

Health Indicator National Family Health Survey 3 (2005-06) National Family Health Survey 4 (2015-16)
Children under 5 years who are underweight (Weight for age in %)
Children age 6-59 months who are anaemic (%) 69.4 58.4
All women age 15-49 years who are anaemic (%) 55.3 53.00
Women between 15 and 49 years whose Body Mass Index (BMI) is below normal (%) 35.5 22.90

The Government of India is implementing food, livelihood and social security programmes, such as the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS), Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) and Public Distribution System (PDS), supporting vulnerable people so that they can have access to basic needs, especially food.

The People's Union for Civil Liberties vs. Union of India and Ors. case in the Supreme Court of India is an important case protecting the people's right to food. The case highlighted the Government's failure to address hunger and starvation deaths. The Supreme Court expanded the original reach of the case by focusing on larger systemic issues of food insecurity, poverty and unemployment. The Supreme Court issued a series of interim orders while recognizing the constitutional right to food as flowing from the right to life and gave directives for proper implementation of the various programmes like MDMS, ICDS and the PDS. The Supreme Court also ordered for creation of a new accountability mechanism, like Commissioners, for monitoring and reporting on compliance with the court orders.

To address the issue, the Government of India has put in place a massive food and safety programme by enacting the National Food Security Act, 2013 on 10 September 2013 that seeks to ensure food and nutritional security of the people. The National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013, seeks to deliver food security to the targeted beneficiaries. The relevant Sections of NFSA are reproduced below:
" Section 4 Subject to such schemes as may be framed by the Central Government, every pregnant woman and lactating mother shall be entitled to-
(a) meal, free of charge, during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, through the local Anganwadi, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II; and

(b) maternity benefit of not less than rupees six thousand, in such installments as may be prescribed by the Central Government.

" Section 5. (1) Subject to the provisions contained in clause (b), every child up to the age of fourteen years shall have the following entitlements for his nutritional needs, namely:-
(a) In the case of children in the age group of six months to six years, age appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local Anganwadi so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II:
Provided that for children below the age of six months, exclusive breast feeding shall be promoted;
(b) In the case of children up to class VIII or within the age group of six to fourteen years, whichever is applicable, one mid-day meal, free of charge, everyday, except on school holidays, in all schools run by local bodies, Government and Government aided schools, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II.

(2) Every school, referred to in clause (b) of sub-section (1), and Anganwadi shall have facilities for cooking meals, drinking water and sanitation:
Provided that in urban areas facilities of centralized kitchens for cooking meals may be used, wherever required, as per the guidelines issued by the Central Government.

" Section 6. The State Government shall, through the local Anganwadi, identify and provide meals, free of charge, to children who suffer from malnutrition, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II.

Nutritional standards: The nutritional standards for children in the age group of 6 months to 3 years, age group of 3 to 6 years and pregnant women and lactating mothers required to be met by providing "Take Home Rations" or nutritious hot cooked meal in accordance with the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and nutritional standards for children in lower and upper primary classes under the Mid Day Meal Scheme are as follows:

S. No Category Type of meal Calories (Kcal) Protein(g)
1 2 3 4 5
1. Children (6 months to 3 Years) Take Home Ration 500 12-15
2. Children (3 to 6 Years) Morning Snack and Hot Cooked Meal 500 12-15
3. Children (6 Months to 6 Years) who are malnourished Take Home Ration 800 20-25
4. Lower Primary Classes Hot Cooked Meal 450 12
5. Upper Primary Classes Hot Cooked Meal 700 20
6. Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers Take Home Ration 600 18-20

8. Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS)
The ICDS offers the range of services to improve the nutritional and health status of the children between 0-6 years as well of the pregnant women and lactating mothers. The specific services that are provided through the Anganwadi centre include: Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), Immunization, Health Check-ups, Referral Services, Pre-School Education, and Nutrition and Health Education (WCD, 2014).
The Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) is the main component of ICDS to tackle malnutrition that provides supplementary meals to children between 0-6 years and pregnant, nursing and lactating mothers to ensure improved nutrition outcomes. There have been many problems associated with the implementation of the Programme which include:

i. Irregularity in food supplies

ii. Lack of delivery to target individuals

iii. Lack of awareness among mothers about their child's eligibility for the food.

iv. Further, Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) are not able to properly identify the nutritional status of children.

All the above mentioned factors among others have contributed to ineffectiveness of the ICDS programme.

Mid Day Meal Scheme
The introduction of Mid-Day Meal Scheme is considered as one of the major steps taken to improve and strengthen educational development and nutritional status of the children. The main objectives of the Mid Day Meal Scheme are:
i. Improving the nutritional status of children in classes I - VIII in Government schools, Local Body and Government aided schools, and Education guarantee Schemes (EGS) and Alternative Innovative Education (AIE) centers.

ii. Encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities.

iii. Providing nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought affected areas during summer vacation.

iv. Enhancing gender equity.
The Central Government notified 'Mid Day Meal Rules, 2015' on 30 September 2015 under the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA, 2013) which contains provisions related to Mid Day Meal Scheme. One of the salient provisions under the rule is that every enrolled child within the age group of six to fourteen years studying in Classes I to VIII who attends the school is to be provided with hot cooked meal having nutritional standards of 450 calories and 12 gm of proteins for primary and 700 calories and 20 gm protein for upper primary free of charge every day except on school holidays.
Some of the major issues identified in effective implementation of the MDM Scheme are:
" Insufficient number of utensils and kitchen equipments for Mid-Day Meal preparation.
" Some schools did not have proper kitchen and store room facilities for Mid-Day Meal preparation and storage.
" Further, the cooks who are engaged in the meal preparation are less paid and hence do not work with full commitment and interest.
" In many schools there is no provision of LPG to prepare meals and hence food is prepared by using wood which is inconvenient and also pollutes the environment.
Maternity Entitlements
The Government of India is committed to ensure that every woman especially from the most vulnerable communities attains optimal nutritional status as nutrition constitutes the foundation for human development. This is all the more important during the period of pregnancy and lactation coupled with wage loss. An under nourished mother almost inevitably gives birth to a low weight baby. Owing to economic and social distress, many women continue to work to earn a living for their family right up to the last days of their pregnancy. Furthermore, they resume work soon after their childbirth, even though they are not physically fit to work.
To address the above issue, Ministry of Women and Child Development, in accordance with the Section 4 (b) of the National Food Security Act, has formulated a scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers called Maternity Benefit Programme- A Cash Transfer Scheme. Under the scheme, all pregnant women and lactating mothers excluding those who are in regular employment with the Central Government or State Government or Public Sector Undertakings or those who are in receipt of similar benefits under any law for the time being, are eligible.
The scheme envisages providing cash incentive amounting to Rs 5,000 in three installments on fulfilling the specific conditions related to maternal and child health. The eligible beneficiaries would also receive the remaining cash incentive as per approved norms towards Maternity Benefit under existing scheme after institutional delivery so that, a woman will get Rs. 6,000/- on an average.
However, there is need for a comprehensive discussion with all the stakeholders, especially, the States/UTs on the obstacles and hurdles being faced in the way of effective implementation of the National Food Security Act in relation to children and lactating mothers and pregnant women.