By Anjan Pradhan*
As part of COVID elevation measure, a meagre amount of 1 kg of chana dal has been provided to BPL/PDS beneficiaries every month and the state government is planning to stop its allocation from November. As it has been a key arsenal in rural Odisha’s pandemic fight and will be crucial to address malnutrition in the long run, civil society groups have urged the Odisha government to continue the supply of one kg of dal, free of cost for at least 12 months and provide an additional quantity of 2 kgs dal per family at Rs. 10/-kg and add 1 kg of cooking oil @10/- per litre and 1 kg of Iodized Salt at free of cost to keep hunger and malnutrition at bay.
Following COVID-19 lockdown, people witnessed a spill in prices compared to 2019 and high prices of pulses may affect nutrition security, claim NGO Atmashakti Trust and its allies Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha and Mahila Shramajeebee Mancha, according to a study they had recently conducted to know the consumption practices of Dal and its impact on nutritional food security in rural Odisha during COVID-19.
The online survey titled “Consumption of Dal and its impact on nutritional food security in Odisha” which was undertaken with more than 10769 families in the state in 16 districts covering 405 villages of 371 Gram Panchayats in 83 blocks reveal the emerging need of Dal and Edible oil in Public Distribution System to ensure nutritional food security among people in rural Odisha.
According to the study report, 99.9% of surveyed families said that the Dal provided under the Public Distribution System are benefiting them. It emphasizes that people need Dal from the government as a nutrition supplement looking at their consumption trend. The survey report also revealed that 46.6% of the families have to spend between Rs. 81 to Rs. 100 for 1 KG of Dal and around 2% of families have also said that they have to pay more than Rs.110 for 1KG dal. The enhanced price of Dal will most likely distort spending and consumption decisions and this may affect nutrition security, especially for low-income families.
The state government is additionally providing 1 kg of milled Chana dal per family per month during COVID19. But the study results reveal that 63% of families reported this dal lasting between 1 to 5 days while 27% of families reportedly consumed this Dal within 6 to 10 days while 76.45% of families reported that they were consuming the Dal for one meal only. Consumption of Dal also depends upon its availability and affordability. In the study, 92% of families told that they would increase their Dal consumption if they could afford it. The availability of Dal in their locality has also influenced the consumption pattern among families. While 92% of families reported availability of Dal in their locality i.e. either in their villages or in local markets, 8% of families have to travel long to buy Dal.
These organizations have launched a state-level campaign titled “Kuposhana Jadi Kariba Dura, Dali, Tela, Luna Nischita Kara” with a focus on ensuring nutritional food security under State Food Security Scheme, to urge the state government to include Dal, Edible Oil and Iodized salt in the State’s Food Security Scheme.
“For the past eight years, together with our allies, we have been trying to address the issues of food and nutritional security in Odisha and nearly one million families have been included in the PDS system. However, the inclusion of pulses and cooking oil for the PDS beneficiaries has not been met so far. As the level of malnutrition of the state is 50% in its tribal areas, the inclusion of dal is of paramount importance”, says Ms Ruchi Kashyap, Executive Trustee of Atmashakti Trust.
Odisha is one of Empowered Action Group (EAG) states declared by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Though the state has improved on the proportion of malnourished children under -5 in the state shrunk to 34.4% (NFHS-4) from 40.7% (NFHS-3), the tribal communities still suffer the most. Almost 50% of the under-5 children from tribal communities in Odisha are underweight, and 46% are stunted. Another defiance for Odisha is its outreach to remote and particularly tribal populations. The state also witnesses an intra-state disparity in malnutrition. Malnutrition is as high as 51.8% in Malkangiri district according to the report of NFHS-4, while other districts are way behind the state average in their performance.
Appreciating the effort of the organizations, Mr Raj Kishore Mishra, Convener, Right to Food Campaign, Odisha and State Advisor to the Commission of Supreme Court on Right to Food said “we strongly support the demand of Atmashakti and their allies for diversification of Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS). The government musts support to the poor for ensuring food and nutrition security”.
While we appreciate the Odisha government to introduce a special nutrition budget which is unique in our country and a step forward to fight malnutrition in the state, we urge that the government must include our demand and add Dal, Edible oil and iodized salt in its State Food Security Scheme as the government’s measure in this regard will greatly contribute to the nutritional security of the most marginalised section of society.
*Convener, Odisha Shramajeebee Mancha