In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India. A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017. It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country. In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week. This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.
What is malnutrition?
Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin. Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted. Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted. Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.
What is the extent of malnutrition in India?
India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies. According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.
Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life. It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5. Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.
Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)
Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.
Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting. While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period., A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.
The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2 In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children. The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.
Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood. This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2
Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?
No. Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India. On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese. The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity). This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.
What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?
Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country. These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others. However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years. It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released. Key features of the Strategy include:8
 National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017, http://mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=4275
 Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/nutrition_report_for_website_18sep09.pdf
 Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017, http://220.127.116.11/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU2759.pdf
 Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/13/helping-india-combat-persistently-high-rates-of-malnutrition
 Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016, http://18.104.22.168/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4902.pdf
 National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf
 National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://rchiips.org/NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf
 National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Nutrition_Strategy_Booklet.pdf
 Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20National%20Report%202013-14%20Final.pdf
In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions. According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021. The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023. The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand. Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations. The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023. There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction. Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states. As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks. In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations. Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws. In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.
Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws
Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards. Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates. These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role. The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means. Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids. Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh.
Issues to consider
The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating. The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence). Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed. In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years. Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years. However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating. Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.
The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction. Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law. This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates. The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction.
These laws also vary in scope across states. In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission). In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees. For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023. The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.
Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.