The nation is virtually in election mode, and political parties are busy thinking up campaign strategies. But have MPs been making a mark in their constituencies? A study of malnutrition indicators among children below five years in parliamentary constituencies in the country shows that some of the constituencies with the worst health profiles are state capitals like Bhopal and Ranchi, and cities like Udaipur and Jamshedpur. Constituencies represented by top leaders like Rahul Gandhi (Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh) and Jyotiraditya Scindia (Guna, in Madhya Pradesh) have the most malnourished children in the country.
The National Family Health Survey collects data on nutritional status of children at the district level, including details of height, weight, anaemia, stunting and wasting. The data for 2015 was combined using digital models to derive reports for parliamentary constituencies, which aren’t always the same as districts. The study was supported by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies and Tata Trusts. It shows that while nutritional levels of children are quite satisfactory in many constituencies, there are many where attention must be paid to children’s nutritional needs.
The three worst figures for stunting are all from constituencies in Uttar Pradesh: Shrawasti (61.7 percent); Kaisarganj (61.4 percent); and Bahraich (60.6 percent). The MPs representing these constituencies need to work towards improving the figures. Other than Uttar Pradesh, stunting is prevalent in Jharkhand, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
The three worst figures for underweight children are of Singhbhum, Jharkhand (60.9 percent); Purulia, West Bengal (58.2 percent); and Shahjahanpur, Uttar Pradesh (54.3 percent). Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh too have constituencies with poor underweight figures.
Prevalence of wasting is highest in central and western India, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. The constituencies with the highest prevalence of wasting are Jamshedpur, Jharkhand (40.6 percent); Puruliya, West Bengal (34.6 percent); and Nandurbar, Maharashtra (34.5 percent).
The highest rates of anaemia are found in central India, particularly Madhya Pradesh, southern Rajasthan, Haryana, and Gujarat. Madhya Pradesh and Haryana have the highest rates of anaemia, with all parliamentary constituencies in Haryana reporting high prevalence. The constituencies with the highest prevalence of anaemia are Singhbhum, Jharkhand (83 percent); Banswara, Rajasthan (79.3 percent), and Khargone, Madhya Pradesh (79.1 percent).
Overall, 72 parliamentary constituencies fared badly on all indicators of child malnutrition. Of these 12 were in Jharkhand, 19 in Madhya Pradesh, 10 in Karnataka, six in Rajasthan, and eight in Uttar Pradesh. Twenty-nine constituencies showed the least prevalence of all indicators. Of these, 12 were in Kerala, four in West Bengal, and six in Odisha.
Among the 72 constiituencies with notoriously poor health profile are state capitals like Bhopal and Ranchi, and constituencies with high profile MPs like Amethi, Gwalior, Jamshedpur, and Guna. The study also shows how some constituencies stood out with good indicators while surrounded by constituencies where nutrition levels were very low. These “positive deviant” constituencies could help show the way to improve nutritional profiles.
For instance, Jamnagar in Gujarat is the only positive deviant for stunting in the whole country, not to speak of the state of Gujarat itself. Other constituencies could study the Jamnagar model to improve their own profile.
Jaipur, Jhunjhunun, and Sikar in Rajasthan are positive deviants for both wasting and underweight. The authors said that future studies should look at the practices followed in these constituencies to see why they were doing much better and if these could be replicated elsewhere.
The study is significant as MPs have been entrusted with considerable Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) funds, and an awareness of the health needs of the constituency could motivate better spending. In 1993, the Indian government established MPLADS, wherein each year every MP receives Rs 5 crore to carry out development projects in their constituencies.
To date, Rs 31,833.35 crore has been disbursed to Lok Sabha MPs by the government as part of the MPLADS programme, according to the 2017 figures of the ministry of statistics and programme implementation. The study found that younger MPs tended to spend their funds over the whole tenure while older ones spent mostly towards the end as elections drew close. The funds given to MPs have been increasing over the past few decades rising from the initial Rs 5 lakh to Rs 5 crore in 2015.
Nutritional programmes, like integrated child development services (ICDS) under which anganwadis are run in states, are the business of state governments and funding comes from the centre. Can the MP make a difference here? How much do MPs spend on these matters? A study of the expense pattern of MP funds would reveal the truth if the bleak data of this study doesn’t.
(This article appears in the March 15, 2019 edition)
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