As part of the new initiative, the state government has decided to offer three eggs per week to 1.4 million children in seven districts with very poor child health indicators. According to the NFHS-5, more than 37% under-5 rural kids in Karnataka are stunted.
Hot cooked meal being served to children at an anganwadi centre in rural Karnataka. All photos: Nidhi Jamwal
From this month, December 1, the Karnataka government has included boiled eggs and bananas in the mid-day meals of the students of government aided schools in seven districts — Bidar, Raichur, Kalaburagi, Yadgir, Koppal, Ballari and Vijayapura. Each of the children studying in Classes I to VIII in these seven districts is expected to receive three eggs per week, or 42 boiled eggs (or bananas) till March 2022.
As part of the initiative, the state government is providing three eggs per week to 1.4 million children in the southern state.
Although this move has been welcomed by activists and nutritionist experts, they insist on including eggs in the mid-day meals of schools in all 31 districts of the state and extending the distribution to five days of the week instead of the present three days.
In a statement issued today, December 20, by the Right to Food Campaign, experts have demanded that eggs should be provided on five days of the week to the children as part of the mid day meal scheme in government/government aided schools as well as anganwadis. Those who don’t eat eggs should be offered a fruit, curd or a glass of milk.
But, the problem is not just the absence of eggs from the menu at schools and anganwadis, say the activists.
“The menu lacks diversity in the form of milk, dairy, vegetables, fats/oils, pulses and legumes. Eggs in these scenarios can tilt the nutritional status of a child,” read the statement. “Eggs provide many of the nutritional needs including good quality proteins, minerals, vitamins and fats. They are easy to cook, not prone to adulteration and pilferage like other foods and contribute to increasing school attendance,” it adds.
Eggs can also meet the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 mandate as each 60 gram egg can provide almost half the protein requirement of each meal (upto 20 gram of good quality protein) as well as many other essential nutrients, highlighted the Right To Food activists in the statement.
It must be noted that the recent National Family Health Survey-5 of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had revealed that under-5 children in the seven districts of Karnataka, where the state government has introduced eggs and bananas, were suffering from high malnourishment and anaemia.
According to the National Family Health Survey-5, 2019-20, four (37.2 per cent) in ten under-5 rural children in Karnataka are stunted (low height for age).
Every one in five such children wasted (weight for height) while 34.9 per cent children are underweight. This is more than the national average of 19.5 per cent in wasting and 33.8 per cent in underweight (low weight for age).
Even under-5 rural kids who are severely wasted (8.3 per cent) in Karnataka is higher than the national average (7.7 per cent).
“Karnataka has been the only South Indian state that has not provided eggs as part of mid day meal in spite of the fact that 94 per cent of students in the government and aided schools belong to communities that eat eggs,” pointed out the Right to Food Campaign experts.
Meanwhile, the decision of including eggs in mid-day meals is being opposed by the All India Vegetarian Federation and Lingayat/Jain leaders. The Right to Food Campaign has demanded that the state government as well as other states of the country to ensure nutritional interventions for all children on sound scientific premise rather than religion, caste or ideology.
Earlier this month on 2 December, 50 organisations and nutrition experts including Health for All, Peoples’ Democratic Forum, Action Aid Association, wrote an open letter to the Karnataka government on expanding the initiative to all 31 districts of the state.
Besides, the letter, titled ‘Eggs in midday most welcome – but why only 3 eggs a week and only in 7 districts?’, the activists also demanded the contract for the supply of eggs be given to local self-help or women’s groups to support the livelihood of communities as well.
The focus should move from cereals/millets and fortification to a more diverse and nutrient dense diet; milk or milk powder should be provided to the school-children are among other demands.