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Malnutrition, migration remain high in Odisha’s new rice bowl


Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, June 11:

The Indravati large-scale irrigation project may have transformed Kalahandi district from a land of eternal drought to the rice bowl of Odisha, but it has not brought about any change for the landless, small and marginal farmers who constitute nearly 76% of the population.

malnourished children

High infant and maternal mortality and malnutrition continue to be a scourge for this district, which has become a byword for poverty and deprivation nationally.

A recent review of women and child welfare programmes underway in the district has revealed that out of 1.5 lakh children in the district, 4,800 suffer from acute malnutrition.  However, non-government agencies claim that more than 20,000 children in the district suffer from malnutrition. It’s much higher than the state average. The government is spending crores to keep children suffering from acute malnutrition in Nutrition Rehabilitation Centers (NRC). However, only 283 children in the district were sent to the NRC during the last financial year.

The ‘MAMATA’ scheme, aimed at meeting nutritional requirements of pregnant women and ensuring safe motherhood has failed to have the desired effect in the district. 63,335 eligible pregnant women have been registered under the scheme under which  poor mothers are financial assistance of Rs 5,000 with provision for providing the assistance at every trimester of the pregnancy. But unfortunately, 19,620 pregnant women have not received their instalments of financial assistance at different stages. There are instances where women have not received the amount due to them during their pregnancy several months of running around after they have delivered.

During the review at the end of last month, it was found that while 1,820 pregnant women have not received their first instalment of financial assistance, 4,471 have not received their second instalment, 6,329 have not been given their third instalment and 7,000 have not received their fourth instalment.

An official of the Women and Child Development department said since many of the pregnant women are leaving their places in search of work outside, they are unable to receive their financial assistance on time.

Besides non-availability of assistance at the proper time, pregnant women are also being deprived of iron and folic acid supplements, vaccination and medical checkups  as a consequence of which the women are giving birth to malnourished and underweight  babies. No wonder infant mortality rate (IMR) remains as high as before. Only in April last, 59 infants have died, out of which 10 deaths were at Thuamul Rampur, the highest.   The IMR remains high in Thuamul Rampur, Golamunda, Jaypatna, Narla, Madanpur Rampur and Junagadh.

The Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) too remains disturbing in the district. Officially, it stands at 364 in the district which is eight higher than the state rate. However, a senior health official has put it at 500. In the last few months, six out of 149 pregnant women have died in Jaypatna block alone.

Migrant labour remains high in the district. Every year, lakhs from the district migrate to far-off lands in search of work. 37 percent of the land in the district is irrigated but it has not benefited 76 percent of the population of small and marginal farmers and landless of the district.

While the district had a paddy yield of mere 82,000 tonnes in 1998-99 post Indravati project, it has now shot up to seven lakh tonnes.Kalahandi has found a place among the top paddy yielding districts in the country.

While poverty level has reduced to 37% at the state level, it still remains above 50% in the district.

The state government’s ‘Rs One a kilo rice scheme’ has provided for the bare survival needs of the district’s populace. The state government’s revenue earnings from the sale of liquor in the district is more than what it is spending on the subsidy amount on rice. Kalahandi is now among the biggest contributors to the excise earnings of the state.

This is the real picture of Kalahandi district which three decades back used to be better known as the land of hunger starvation deaths.