It appeared like an information anomaly once we seemed on the temporal sample of malnourishment within the tribal sub-division of Dharni in Maharashtra’s Amravati district. An April peak within the variety of kids with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and Moderate Acute Malnutrition (MAM) shocked us. The frequent sense of diet discourse dictates that the height needs to be in monsoon when diarrhoea takes over, or in winter when hypothermia is the satan for youngsters. We re-checked our knowledge and went again to earlier years — this solely appeared to verify our findings. Every yr, for not less than the previous three years, numbers had peaked in April. And, this was no small peak. The numbers went up greater than 5 instances all of a sudden, with two tribal blocks having extra SAM and MAM kids than the remainder of the 12 blocks mixed. The numbers saved decreasing steadily all yr spherical earlier than peaking once more in April.
What was taking place? After some discussions, we realised that a number of households had been returning to Dharni from migrated locations in March for Holi (the largest competition right here), then going again to fulfil contracts, solely to come back again “completely” within the kharif season when cropping begins (there was a smaller peak at June). Our later pursuits revealed a extra direct correlation in Nandurbar, a tribal district in Maharashtra, the place a 2018 UNICEF research had adopted the identical cohort of youngsters, earlier than and after migration. SAM numbers elevated fourfold, MAM too doubled — not less than half of the migrated kids. Given the geographical problems of migration in addition to a scarcity of knowledge, such research have been few.
Migration grew to become the buzzword in the course of the Covid pandemic in cities. However, rural migration has continued for years. In tribal areas particularly — owing to lack of business, points with forest rights, or its implementation, and lack of irrigation amenities — migration extends to 6 to eight months a yr.
The first query that I requested myself was that if individuals are staying some other place for over half a yr, wasn’t that place as a lot their house? Multiple authorities schemes — for strengthening training, well being, connectivity, water provide, electrical energy — work on the belief that individuals are going to remain in villages to reap the fruits of what this capital and operation will sow. This assumption falls flat in excessive migration areas and the understanding of an inter-relationship between long-term diet, migration and livelihood (together with, most of all, MGNREGS) goes askew.
We determined to work on our findings final yr and requested a couple of questions: Where had been folks migrating from probably the most? How many? Which had been the highest-density in-migration locations? We did get some solutions, however they appeared obscure. It stood out that in our diet surveys, the shortage of migration knowledge inflated the denominator (variety of kids being measured), particularly as a result of new births saved including to it, resulting in knowledge that didn’t precisely mirror the scenario. Since we had been in the course of migration season, we determined to fulfill these migrated households.
Three issues that modified the whole lot I’ve ever understood about migration got here from discipline visits. The most distinct reminiscence I’ve is of an interplay with a brick kiln proprietor who shook his head once I requested him “Kitne bacche honge idhar (what number of youngsters are right here?)”. He mentioned “Ham bacche nahi ginte kyunki voh idhar kaam nahi karte (we don’t rely kids as a result of they don’t work right here).” No marvel, then, that there was an invisible set of individuals — particularly pregnant/lactating ladies and kids — who weren’t of any “use” right here. We met many households. Coming head to head with our personal prejudices was additionally vital. We consider migration to be a nasty factor, however right here had been a number of households being offered assured wages — the phrase “assured” being particularly vital as a result of many individuals instructed us they’d be completely happy to not work right here in the event that they bought assured MGNREGS work again house.
The second studying occurred once we met a nine-month-old who was due for MMR vaccination however wasn’t given the dose as a result of he wasn’t due for it again house, and by the point he would return, he would have missed it. Our assumption is that this time interval of six to eight months should be leaving many kids and pregnant ladies unvaccinated. This is just not because of the lack of well being or diet infrastructure or indifference — it’s due to a lack of awareness of those beneficiaries being right here. Most of those brick kilns are round 1-2 km exterior the villages and till there may be intimation of some authorities contact, it’s troublesome for each giver and receiver to get in contact.
Portability as an idea is just not new. But my third studying was that we now have to begin interested by a system that doesn’t relaxation utterly on demand. Our questions — do you are taking ration from retailers? Do you are taking your youngsters to anganwadis? — had been answered within the unfavorable. It didn’t shock me. A Korku tribal inhabitants distress-migrating in a predominantly Marathi belt: Think of the bargaining energy, particularly of girls and kids. It doesn’t take a lot to affix the dots.
Our learnings led us to begin engaged on a migration monitoring system in addition to strengthening MGNREGS. But these inter-relationships want a deeper dive, particularly in tribal areas, which represent the next density of malnutrition. SAM and MAM are the tip of the iceberg once we discuss diet. An extended-term discount in stunting and underweight and enhancing well being will want us to grasp the interaction of diet, livelihood and poverty. A plan that focuses on focusing on and triaging probably the most weak — a technique that retains them on the centre with out silos — may simply be what we have to transfer one step ahead in enhancing the wellbeing of individuals.
The author is a 2017 batch IAS officer of Maharashtra cadre. Views are private