The approval of the PM POSHAN program by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs through 2025-2026 comes at a critical time when declining real incomes and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected the capacity of families to ensure good nutrition. The results of phase I of NFHS-5 for 22 states and union territories in December 2020 were shocking: stunting in children increased in 13 states, the prevalence of anemia in children and women was high and wasting was a serious concern in 12 states. The slippage from the previous survey period reveals the worsening scourge of malnutrition, threatening to deprive millions of children of a fully productive adult life. It will take a serious effort to deal with this hidden crisis, supported by a strong budgetary commitment. The government-supported hot meal program in public and government-subsidized schools, covering 11.8 crore of children, will be complemented with nutritional components in identified high anemia districts and areas. The program, which is proposed to be extended to preschool children, provides for a social audit, the creation of school nutritional gardens to stock up on fresh produce, the participation of farmer-producer organizations as providers and emphasizes local food traditions. Although these are positive features, the momentum towards eradicating malnutrition depends largely on annual budgetary outlays and the proof of POSHAN’s work will lie in measurable results.

Support for PM POSHAN, which the government says was approved over the five-year period at 1,30,794 yen, including 31,733 yen from states and UTs, must remain resilient. While some parameters of a child’s growth, such as stunting, require a longer measurement window, problems such as anemia and low body weight lend themselves to rapid improvement. The government must demonstrate that Saksham Anganwadi-Mission POSHAN 2.0, which merges POSHAN Abhiyan and programs covering anganwadis, nurseries and teenage girls, is fiscally stronger than its former components. There must be a significant increase in the current budget estimate over the combined past spending for the individual subsumed plans. Regarding nutritional planning, the renewed plan should introduce a greater diversity of diets that compensate for micronutrient and protein deficiencies. Strong nutritional supplementation in school, community and daycare centers is essential at a time when critics of food inflation have met with a muted response and pandemic-induced declines in income have depressed essential consumption. The lower consumption of food grains for the midday meal program during the pandemic compared to the previous year and uneven food distribution mechanisms in many states should sound the alarm bells. The future of a generation of Indians is at stake.