Panchayati raj institutions to play a critical role to improve nutrition standards among women and children

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Bhubaneswar: In Odisha, high rate of malnutrition is a major concern with every third child under the age of five years is either stunted or underweight. To improve the situation, very recently the Odisha Government revised the standard menu under the Integrated Child Development Services considering the proposal to cover left out households under the Public Distribution System. Apart from it, Odisha has its own Mamata scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers. All these entitlements, which are part of National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA), need to be implemented effectively to address the situation of malnutrition. However, ensuring these entitlements require a strong mechanism of community monitoring under the leadership of panchayati raj representatives.

Collective Action for Nutrition (CAN), which aims at reducing malnutrition among children and women by strengthening the governance aspects of nutrition, developed a model of community monitoring through social audits of the NFSA under the leadership of elected panchayati raj representatives. A programme of the Society for Promoting Rural Education and Development (SPREAD), CAN facilitated social audits in 216 gram panchayats from December 2017 to April 2018 duly organised by concerned panchayat representatives.

Today, CAN organised a state level sharing and deliberation at the Hotel New Marrion, Bhubaneswar, on the role of gram panchayats in improving food and nutrition situation. The programme was attended by 100 sarpanchs from six districts including Balangir, Kalahandi, Koraput, Malkangiri, Nabarangpur and Nuapada. Other civil society and government representatives also participated in the programme.

On the occasion, SPREAD recognised the efforts of 24 gram panchayats as “Nutrition Champions” for their efforts and contribution in facilitating implementation of the NFSA and social audit that has direct impact on nutrition outcome.

“The process of social audit not only helped me in understanding the nutrition situation but also created a space for an open interaction and follow up action in my gram panchayat,” said Minati Kand, sarpanch of Rokal gram panchayat in Nuapada. Other sarpanchs also felt the need of timely social audits and incentivising gram panchayats to monitor food and nutrition programmes.

The programme was inaugurated by Shri Surjya Narayan Patro, Hon’ble Minister for Food Supplies and Consumer Welfare. Shri Binaya Dash, Director, Odisha Society for Social Audit Accountability and Transparency (OSSAAT), Ms. Sandhyabati Pradhan, Chairperson OCPCR, Shri Prafulla Das, Odisha Bureau Chief of The Hindu and Dr. Aurobindo Behera, IAS (Retd.) and Shri Devjit Mitra, Vice President of Azim Premji Philanthropic Initiatives, were the other guests participating in the programme.

Chairing the session on role of PRIs in food and nutrition programmes, Odisha State Food Commission Chairperson, Shri Ranglal Jamuda, IAS (Retd.), emphasised on the need of institutionalising social audit under the NFSA. A Social Audit Manual and a Social Audit Training Manual developed by SPREAD was released on the occasion.

The NFSA Social Audit Manual and Social Audit Training Manual were developed after a through consultation with the experts and based on the experience of 240 social audits carried out in last two years. They will be the useful and readymade documents for the government while institutionalising and rolling out NFSA social audits in the state, said Bidyut Mohanty, Secretary, SPREAD.

The 216 social audits that were carried out recently have very interesting findings. Significant among them were lack of building and infrastructure for ICDS centres, irregularity in distribution of Take Home Ration and morning snacks, and irregular growth plotting was significant. Absence of ICDS service in tag villages was one of the key issue came up in all the social audits.

Further, the findings reflect almost 17% intra-household exclusion in Targeted Public Distribution System. Delay in payment of benefits to Mamata beneficiaries was another significant issue that has come up. Transparency and absence of robust grievance redresal mechanism was a cross cutting issue identified across the gram panchayats.

The social audit is a process that involves mobilising communities, conducting verification, collecting grievances and testimonies, and presenting the same in gram sabha. The service providers across all levels participated in the gram sabha and responded to the issues raised in gram sabhas. The social audit gram sabha in Soseng gram panchayat of Nuapada was attended by the District Collector and State Food Commission. An average of 300 persons participated in each of the gram sabha.

The experiences shared by all the participants reflect that there is a need to scale up and institutionalise NFSA social audits. Role of the panchayati raj institutions in community monitoring also needs to be ensured and incentivised.

 

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