Published: Tuesday 15 September 2009

Split over milk

May I correct some of the rather sweeping observations your correspondent has made in the write-up 'The Gates Account' (July 1-15, 2009). The crux of the write-up is foreign funding agencies do not have any understanding of how to tackle the country's health problems and that they favour the private sector. For example, the correspondent has cited a seminar for MPs last year on the need to fortify milk with vitamin A. It was a Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (gain) initiative. The write-up quoted unnamed public health experts who claimed "since the poor don't drink enough milk they would not benefit from the programme."

If the writer had bothered to check with any of the organizers, including me, she would have known that the discussion was not only about milk. It was to highlight the need for the dairy industry to replenish vitamins A and D, which are removed along with the fat during processing of milk, a measure mandatory in several countries. (The cost works out to a minimal two to three paise per litre.) The topic was selected because it was a very doable initiative on malnutrition and had the support of all the MPs who attended the seminar. Incidentally, per person consumption of dairy milk in India is 175 to 200 ml per day. If implemented, it would certainly make a noticeable difference to a sizeable section of the population.

As for the claim that technical interventions have little to do in eradicating malnutrition as opposed to social determinants, one has to look at the example of Bangladesh, which adopted a policy combining strategies like improving delivery systems, fortification, focusing on regions most severely affected by malnutrition and hygiene. In Bangladesh malnutrition rates have fallen by 6 per cent in the past 10 years, compared to India's failure to bring down malnutrition by even 2 per cent during the same period.

Coomi Kapoor
Kapoor writes for The Indian Express and has been a consultant to gain

Down To Earth responds

The article is based on a peer-reviewed analysis of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's funding. It presents the researchers' conclusions and comments from public health experts in India. Reference to gain was to exemplify the point made by the authors of the paper. That apart, your statement "consumption of dairy milk in India is 175 to 200 ml per day" is misleading as this is an average. A 2009 study shows a positive correlation between income and milk consumption in India. With 468 ml consumption among the Rs 9,001-plus monthly income group, not much milk is left for poor people who would need fortification.

The National Sample Survey on household consumer expenditure in 2006-07 showed in rural Chhattisgarh, the monthly per capita expenditure on milk and milk products was only Rs 9. The price of milk is high in India--for example, double-toned milk sells for Rs 19 per litre. If a person from Chhattisgarh spends only on milk and not on milk products (which comes at a premium), the person would consume only 15 ml milk per day. We also presume the average dairy milk consumption includes milk products like ice cream and cheese.

It is unrealistic to expect this to take care of vitamin A deficiency (see 'Will milk fortification benefit the poor?', April 30, 2008).

From skilled to unskilled

It is unfortunate that a fine weaver of Venkataswamy's calibre is labelled unskilled ('The unskilled Venkata-swamy', April 16-30, 2009). Is it the problem of industry or of society that they fail to recognize such people?

Identification of skills and support for infrastructural development, production and marketing will help utilize everyone's skills, generating employment for more people.


Why target Nano?

Why is everyone criticizing Nano?
Maybe it is the most polluting car in the country; maybe it is one of the greenest one. I have never heard anyone criticizing a bmw or a Mercedes. Don't they pollute? But then, they are the cars of the rich and Nano is the car of the middle class. The latter is easy to bully and hit in the face.


No accountability

Your editorial ('It's raining gdp', July 16-31, 2009) highlights perhaps the most written about problem in India: the broken promises syndrome.

Being the citizens of this country (we should stop using the word aam aadmi because it is overused, condescending and conveys nothing but a partly successful election campaign of the Congress) we need to identify the reasons our system fails to deliver on promises. Is it a problem of talent in the country or of our democratic system? Is it because we are not like the Chinese or is it because we have been taught to believe that slow and steady wins the race? Several factors create a mindset that permits our MPs to get away with zero accountability.


Let corporates in

Private buses are owned by former or serving police personnel, politicians and other influential people ('Can we afford not to change? Can we afford the change?', July 1-15, 2009). The drivers are untrained and indifferent to public safety. Many of the conductors and drivers are also history sheeters. Corporate houses should be allowed to enter the public transport sector.

Let them collaborate with European companies and find ways to secure clean development mechanism benefits.


If banks and public sector units stop lighting signboards all night long and use solar power much electricity can be saved. Most office premises now are centrally air conditioned. Perhaps, we could do without that?


Rickshaw to the rescue

When a heavy downpour inundates Kolkata streets forcing all vehicles to come to a standstill, it is the rickshaw that comes to the rescue. This poor cousin, especially the hand-pulled rickshaw, helps stranded commuters reach their destinations. If we cannot prevent water-logging in the city why banish the rickshaw ('Fair business', June 16-30, 2009)?


Twisted reasons

You are partially correct in saying that this upa government came to power because of programmes such as those implemented under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ('Time to be different', June 1-15, 2009). It is also true that the votes got divided among dozens of regional and national parties. How the Congress got the magic number of 206 is still a mystery.


Banks, step in

I request you to advise the National Action Plan on Climate Change Committee to discuss with the commercial banks a target of disbursing at least US $1 billion a year towards purchasing solar appliances.

I don't know of other states, but Karnataka has made it mandatory for new apartments in Bengaluru to install solar water heaters. My point is the climate change committee should insist that banks should grant home loans only if customers are ready to install solar water heaters and solar lighting systems. If the customer rejects the idea, the application should be rejected.

I had recently called up nationalized banks, headquartered in Karnataka, to know if they follow the state government order. The response was a big no. The Prime Minister's Office should ask the banks to launch solar loan melas. If banks do not comply, then disciplinary action should be taken against them. I am a management consultant. I told the banks they could explore the idea of accumulating carbon credits from their solar loan portfolio, package it and sell it. I have not made any breakthrough.


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