At a time when many Indian states are struggling fiscally to prioritise nutrition in their development agenda, Odisha is fast emerging as a Nutrition Champion and has made nutrition one of its topmost priority.
Odisha has been lauded for its achievements in implementing a range of progressive interventions in the domain of nutrition, such as the introduction of eggs and decentralised procurement in Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), efficient implementation of Mamata scheme (conditional cash transfer for pregnant and lactating women), institutionalising the community-monitoring platforms - the Jaanch and Matru committees, among others.
The State is considered a “positive deviant”, showing political commitment, investing in social sectors and implementing nutrition-relevant programmes, which has resulted in a decline in its stunting levels at least three times faster than other states with comparable poverty levels.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to nutrition in the form of Poshan Abhiyaan or the National Nutrition Mission has given much-needed attention and call to action to fight undernutrition in the country. And rightly so, as undernutrition impacts 48.2 million children in India, that is equivalent to the population size of a country like Columbia. But, analysis of the fiscal performance of Poshan Abhiyaan suggests that the government’s flagship programme is not received with much enthusiasm across the country.
A report by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), which analysis the recently tabled Union budget 2020-21, suggests that only 32.4% of the funds allocated for the programme in the previous fiscal year were utilised as of January 2019 and as of November 2019 there has been no release of funds to at least 15 States.
While this Union Budget made nutrition a priority with the Finance Minister making a reference as part of her Budget speech, the analysis by CBGA reveals that budget allocations remain consistently below the demand by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The story is no different in other States, with the total approved budget for supplementary nutrition programmes (including the State and Centre share), being only 44% of the required costs.
Odisha is the only state to introduce Nutrition Budget
However, Odisha has taken the nutrition agenda further by transforming its political commitment into a fiscal one. The state has introduced a Nutrition Budget Statement in the state budget 2020-21, making it the first and the only to prepare a separate budget statement on nutrition schemes and their outlays. The statement is divided into two parts disaggregating the state’s nutrition schemes as Nutrition-Specific and Nutrition-Sensitive, following the globally accepted nutrition framework.
Introduction of the statement is backed up with significant increases in the budgets of both categories of schemes. While the budgets for nutrition-specific schemes increased from Rs 3,999 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 5,210 crore in 2020-21, those for nutrition-sensitive schemes increased by almost 70% from Rs 13,880 crore to Rs 23,753 crore during the same period.
As of 2020-21, nutrition-specific budget for Odisha stands at 1.07% of the GSDP and nutrition-sensitive budget stands at 4.89% of GSDP. This is in stark contrast to the trends in the Union Budget where the allocations for the nutrition-sensitive schemes declined by almost 19% between2019-20 and 2020-21.
Odisha’s budget has also focused on improving nutrition for the most disadvantaged and excluded. It introduced a “Strategy for transformation of nutrition outcomes in hard to reach areas” in November 2019 with a budget of Rs 5 crore. Now it has increased the same by ten times to Rs 51.4 crore in the current budget. At the same time, the state has focused on improving the governance around nutrition and introduced a scheme on Nutrition Governance with a budget of Rs 12 crore.
Ongoing large nutrition schemes have also seen significant increases in budget 2020-21 compared to allocations in 2019-20. There has been an increase of almost 23% in the budget for Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) with a 25% increase for Supplementary Nutrition programme (SNP) alone. The budget for Construction/Repair/Addition/Alteration of anganwadi centers also increased by over 25 times from Rs 4.53 crore in 2019-20 Revised Estimates to Rs 113.29 crore in 2020-21 Budget Estimates. This increase comes at a time when there is significant discussion around extending ICDS services to unserved regions inhabited by tribals by ensuring presence of functioning anganwadi centres (AWCs). This is considered critical for improving their access to nutrition services, leading to better health and nutrition for tribal women and children.
Odisha has been a pioneer on several fronts in the nutrition domain, the latest being the introduction of the Nutrition Budget. It lays foundation for holistically addressing the issue by targeting the most nutritionally vulnerable, focusing on nutrition governance, and backing its nutrition commitment with fiscal outlays. The national and other state governments should take lessons from Odisha, not just on expanding the fiscal space for nutrition, but also for making their policies more progressive and responsive to their respective nutrition needs.
Saumya Shrivastava and Neha Saigal work on nutrition with IPE Global. Views expressed are personal