The state Government claims that this number is down (slightly) from a year ago, and that in any case, the deaths are not due to malnutrition but to the low weight at birth of these kids. Plus "illness". Fine distinctions, if you ask me, but let that pass.
That small Indians are dying in such numbers at a time when we export food and have such a booming economy is a tragedy. It says something -- to me, at any rate. But then I get told often that I should not confuse these two issues, or that I should stop writing altogether -- so OK, I'll let that pass too.
Instead, I'll just offer two tidbits to explain (perhaps) why I mention these deaths together with the Rural Employment Guarantee Bill.
One: an extract from this report:
Sanjay Savale, a researcher at Shivaji University at Nasik, studied one jobs program that has been running for over three decades. Though corruption marred several projects, places in rural Maharashtra have shown a downward trend in rural to urban migration. The program, he says, "has managed to break this migration cycle only because it provides work to people within two to six miles of where they live."
Mr. Savale recalls what one tribal woman said to him about Maharashtra's Employment Guarantee Program (EGP): "I never previously ate rice in the dry season. We used to eat kanyaa [a congeal with only a little food grain]. EGS employment gives us the luxury of eating rice in the dry season."
"The luxury." Indeed.
Two: in truth, malnutrition among children can be easily addressed. Tamil Nadu has long operated an Integrated Nutrition Project: a programme targeted at the poorest areas and the most vulnerable people. A remarkable result: two years after completing the programme, children are, on average, two kilogrammes heavier than children who did not participate.
As far back as 1987, one study (in Malnutrition: What Can Be Done? by Alan Berg) estimated that expanding such programmes nationwide would need spending to the tune of 2.12% -- yes, two point one two per cent -- of the country's budget.
Why is it not possible to spend two paise in every hundred to save the lives of small Indians?