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Ten years after Shivraj Singh Chouhan govt rejected recommendation, MP to give eggs to children from next year

According to official records, the proposal to give eggs to children was first suggested to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan led MP government in 2009 as part of formulating the Atal Bihari Vajpayee child health and nutrition mission to address the issue of malnutrition through some institutional measures.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Nov 23, 2019, 09.51 AM IST
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Congress-led MP government to give eggs to children & pregnant women to address the alarming levels of malnutrition in children (Representative Image)
NEW DELHI: Ten years after the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh first rejected a proposal to give eggs to children to address the alarming levels of malnutrition in children, and followed it up with many rejections of the same proposal in the subsequent years, the Congress-led MP government now has now decided to launch the scheme not just for children, but also for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

According to official records, the proposal to give eggs to children was first suggested to the Shivraj Singh Chouhan led MP government in 2009 as part of formulating the Atal Bihari Vajpayee child health and nutrition mission to address the issue of malnutrition through some institutional measures.

Deaths due to under nutrition was a major election issue during the 2008 assembly elections in the State.

The advisory committee comprising several NGO activists and policy makers had then recommended "culturally acceptable food," including eggs be made part of the ICDS programme in the State. Six meetings were held then, but when the 58-page draft made it to the group of minsters, the recommendation of eggs was removed from it. Following this, certain upper caste and Jain leaders specifically met with then CM Chouhan, after which the egg issue was not discussed for many years.

In 2015 however, another similar proposal was floated in the cabinet through principal secretary JS Kansotia then, but was shot down.

In 2016, the union agriculture Ministry wrote to the Madhya Pradesh government recommending inclusion of eggs in nutritious food programme, but the idea was rejected again. According to an official, not just Chouhan, influential ministers Jayant Malaya, Gopal Bhargava and Archana Chitnis were also never in favour of it, because "it was a sentimental issue" for Chouhan and the party.

In 2018 too, the Right to Food activists had a public meeting in Bhopal wherein they requested all political parties to include provision to eggs to children in their manifesto, but the parties refused. But once the Congress government was formed, they were told by officials to wait till the Lok Sabha elections, following which a detailed letter was sent to the CM Kamal Nath on September 5 this year by the Right to Food activists, after which they were asked to give a presentation to the CM on the benefits of giving egg to children, and the logistics of such a scheme.

Starting April 2020, according to MP government estimates, 12,27,046 children between the age group of one and five, 1,77, 635 pregnant and 1,70,030 nursing mothers in 80 tribal blocks of the State are set to get free eggs thrice a week. The state government has estimated it will incur an annual expenditure of Rs 113.338 crore on this. The department of women and child development in the State will send a detailed proposal to the finance department seeking allocation for the programme in the upcoming budget, an official said.

This comes after four months after the new Congress government in Chattisgarh announced a partial scheme of giving eggs to children twice a week using the District Mineral Foundation (DMF) fund.

DMF was set up in March 2015 to work for the interest of citizens living in areas affected by mining-related activities. Former BJP's Raman Singh government had discontinued with eggs in 2015, replacing them with soya and banana. Punjab and Rajasthan are the two Congress States that do not give eggs to Children.

"MP has the highest population of tribal community - 16 million but not a single powerful tribal voice was heard on this issue. Even the tribal advisory council was never heard seriously on this, about what it wants for the community," Sachin Jain, a Bhopal-based right to food activist said. Jain added that Madhya Pradesh's decision to "institutionalise the provision of eggs" showed that the State was owning the responsibility, unlike Chattisgarh which has made it dependant on the DMF.

According to developmental economist Reetika Khera, the opposition to the proposal for introducing eggs on the menu for children comes from a small, but very vocal lobby. "They succeed in framing the discussion, and create the impression that the proposal includes force feeding eggs to those who don't eat them. Just as that would be wrong, it is wrong to prevent those who do eat eggs from having that opportunity, especially since these are poor and undernourished children of our country. In medicine and nutrition research, it is well understood that to tackle undernutrition, we need to focus on the first 1000 days of a child's life, including her time in her mother's womb. Therefore, eggs are a superfood: nutrient- dense, inexpensive, with a long shelf life, important in rural areas, hard to adulterate, thus logistically convenient."

Anupam Ranjan, Principal Secretary- Woman and Child Development in MP said, "the bureaucracy and the department of child welfare in the State was always in favour of giving eggs to children, as the nutritional quality of eggs is undisputed. But due to several political pressures and other constraints, the proposal could get through only now." Rajan added that with the inclusion of eggs in the midday meals for children, the state's attendance and performance records will also go up. "Those who don't eat eggs, we will have the provision to give them seasonal fruits such as apples, or even bananas."

While the midday meal scheme in India started in states like Tamil Nadu much earlier, the provision of cooked food in government-run schools was universalised following a Supreme Court order in the 2001. Eggs first appeared in school meals in Tamil Nadu in 1989 and in Andhra Pradesh soon after.

Today, Tamil Nadu provides eggs five times a week in schools and three times a week in anganwadis. But other states such as Odisha are catching up fast, by serving eggs three times a week in anganwadis and twice a week in schools, while other major states, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal have also joined the egg club in the last few years, leading to a policy shift that even the poorest states can afford it.

However, states such as UP and Gujarat have gone for lentils and milk as a substitute for eggs, that have been often been criticised by activists for not being enough to handle the low human development indicators in the States.

Both in MP and Chattisgarh the proposal of giving eggs to children has met with opposition from members of Kabir Panth, Vaishya samaj and Jain community, apart from the BJP who have argued that inclusion of eggs in mid-day meal hurts their faith and also termed it as a conspiracy to promote non-vegetarianism.

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