The Ksheera Bhagya scheme has a flaw.
Essential energy-giving fat is not reaching the 47,101 severely malnourished and 10.1 lakh moderately malnourished children aged below 6 in anganwadis.
They get fat-free skimmed milk under the scheme, while schoolchildren aged 6-16 get 150 ml of nourishing whole, or full cream, milk thrice a week.
Officials of the Karnataka Milk Federation (KMF), the nodal agency for the implementation of Ksheera Bhagya, say that the issue was discussed threadbare in the preparatory meetings for the scheme. “We have a limited capacity to produce whole milk powder and can give up to 75 lakh tonnes for the scheme. An additional 25 lakh tonnes is needed to supply the milk to anganwadis also. The state government took the decision that the anganwadis will get skimmed milk powder,” KMF managing director A S Premnath told Express. Activists term this move “a lack of common sense”.
“Lesser the age, more the requirement of energy from fat. Real catch-up growth happens when the child is below five, through protein and fat. In the mother’s milk, almost 50 per cent of the energy comes from fat. Milk with fat is exactly what these children need and giving them skimmed milk defeats the purpose of the scheme,” says nutrition expert and activist Dr K C Raghu.
Government sources said that the mismatch happened because the Primary and Secondary Education Department moved more quickly than the Women and Child Development (WCD) Department to take the whole milk powder.
“It is actually WCD and the anganwadis that need the whole milk. Skimmed milk could have been given to high school students and the shortage could have been tided over. But Primary and Secondary Education Department officials managed to get the entire whole milk powder supply allotted to them, and the WCD was left with just skimmed milk,” a source, who attended the meeting concerned, told Express.
The KMF says it is not in a position to upscale its production capacity to produce an additional 25 lakh tonnes of whole milk powder.
“We will need to invest and set up another plant to make the additional whole milk powder, and the process will take at least a year and a half,” KMF additional director (marketing) Mrutyunjaya Kulkarni said.
The government can just divert 25,000 tonnes of whole milk powder to the anganwadis and give the skimmed milk to high school children. But this is not being done.
Dr Raghu said the other problem with the scheme was that the milk was being supplied in powder form and not fresh.
“The KMF could decentralise the entire procurement procedure and give fresh milk to the children daily. Even if the milk powder quality is very good, it will still lose nutrients while being converted from milk to powder and then again to milk with the addition of water,” he said.
KMF, however, insists that the quality of its milk powder and its nutrient capacity is very good. “The only difference is a small change in taste. But the powder is as nutritious as the milk. It doesn’t even need hot water, the powder can just be mixed with cold water and it will be as smooth as milk,” Kulkarni maintained.