Bengaluru: Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah on Monday announced Maatru Poorna, a scheme to provide free hot food and cater to nutritional needs of expecting and new mothers across the state.
The new scheme will provide one nutritious meal a day which will include rice, lentils, green leafy vegetables or sambar with boiled eggs, peanut chikki and 200ml of milk for 25 days in a month, Siddaramaiah tweeted on Monday.
Maatru Poorna joins a long list of populist schemes including Anna Bhagya (free rice) and Ksheera Bhagya (free milk for students) to provide food to the poor and disadvantaged. The schemes are aimed at boosting Siddaramaiah’s popularity ahead of state elections next year.
The scheme was first taken up in four talukas, or administrative units, across the state benefiting around 32,000 women, The Times of India reported in December. It was to be extended to the entire state from July and had a budgetary provision of Rs302 crore.
The new scheme will provide one hot meal a day to pregnant women and lactating mothers from the start of pregnancy to six months after the delivery of the child, antenatal and postnatal care, calcium supplements, deworming, early counselling of parents and maternity benefits, the chief minister said.
Though the exact number of women to be benefited remains unclear, Siddaramaiah said the scheme would help improve health and nutrition of over 1.2 million pregnant and lactating mothers.
The scheme will be available in all 30 districts of the state, Siddaramaiah said. His last such populist venture, Indira Canteen, a scheme to serve subsidised food in Bengaluru, was targeted at the urban poor. Even the Janata Dal (Secular) forayed into the affordable food venture business with the launch of “Namma Appaji Devegowda Canteen”, funded privately by a legislator from the party.
“If the experience of Tamil Nadu is anything to go by, popular access to affordable, nutritious food can fare very high in relation (compared to other public schemes) to their populist schemes, which are likely to be sector specific, i.e. school children, the disabled, farmers. Food will be open to all,” Chandan Gowda, professor at the Azim Premji University in Bengaluru had earlier told Mint.
The State government’s promise a year ago to provide milk to students five days a week under the Ksheera Bhagya scheme remain unfulfilled. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, in principle, had also given the nod to extend distribution of milk from three to five days for children in anganwadis, government and aided schools.
Sources in the State government said that currently Rs. 510 crore was being spent annually to provide milk thrice a week to 39 lakh anganwadi children and 62 lakh students in government and aided schools.
“If the milk has to be provided five times a week, we will require an additional Rs. 300 crore. As it is a huge financial commitment, the government is delaying its implementation,” a source pointed out.
Under the Ksheera Bhagya scheme, launched in August 2013, hot water is added to 18 gram of full-cream milk powder to make 150 ml of milk, which is a child’s daily quota.
Children in anganwadis who were given skimmed milk initially, have been getting full cream milk since July 1 this year.
“The scheme has benefited students as a majority of them come from lower economic backgrounds and do not consume milk at home. Extending the scheme to all working days will have benefit students health-wise,”said the headmaster of a government school in east Bengaluru.
No milk in flexi packs?
Although the Karnataka Milk Federation distributed milk in flexi packets on a trial basis for two weeks to 1,100 government and aided schools in Bengaluru last month, KMF authorities and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) are not considering switching to these packs owing to logistical issues.
“Although students were thrilled to consume milk from flexi packets as its consistency was good, serving it on a long-term basis is expensive. Moreover, disposing the milk packets will be a tough task,” a DPI official pointed out.