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Editorials/Opinions Analyses For UPSC 1 November 2021


  1. Getting nutrition back on the school high table
  2. Living on death row with illness

Getting nutrition back on the school high table


With COVID-19 cases reducing in the country the reopening of all schools is on the anvil, hence, there is a need to focus on the nutrition of children to ensure they are armed with good immunity as they get ready to take on new challenges especially after emerging from the confines of their homes.


GS-II: Social Justice and Governance (Issues related to Health and Nutrition, Issues related to Children, Welfare Schemes, Government Policies and Initiatives)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Importance of nutrition in the development stage
  2. Social factors
  3. Need for a balanced diet
  4. The answer – PM POSHAN (Poshan Shakti Nirman) scheme (New MDM)
  5. How the erstwhile Mid-Day-Meal Scheme came to be?
  6. Has the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme helped?
  7. Criticism of MDM scheme and Implementation
  8. PM Poshan Shakti Nirman scheme is not to be confused with: Poshan Abhiyaan

Importance of nutrition in the development stage

  • Nutrition is much more important especially in the case of children and adolescents as it is during these phases of life that we see rapid growth of the body and development of food habits.
  • Childhood and adolescence are two conjoined periods of continuous growth and development — a seamless duration.
  • For instance, between two and 10 years of age, children tend to grow at an average of 6-7 cm in height and 1.5 to 3 kg in weight every year.
  • But specifically, when the growth spurt happens at about 10-12 years in girls and two years later in boys during adolescence, their nutritional needs are vastly increased.
  • In the case of girls, their nutritional status impacts not only their health but that of generations to come.
  • Malnutrition in any form can put children and adolescents at risk of compromised immune function, thus making them vulnerable to infections.

Social factors

  • To understand and foster the immunity of developing children, one also needs to understand disruptive social environment factors that affect diet quality.
  • In urban as well as among middle class and affluent communities, restricted movement, constrained socialisation and even dwindling physical contact have become the new normal.
  • COVID-19 isolation and fatigue have led to generalised stress, adding to the immunity challenge for children.
  • These challenges coupled with a lack of diet diversity leading to imbalanced micronutrient intake or consumption of high carbohydrate and high sugar foods, endanger the child’s health by compromising their immunity and making them vulnerable to infections. Hence, the way we approach nutrition needs to change.

Need for a balanced diet

  • It is essential to look beyond minimum calorie requirements and ensure children consume a balanced diet with adequate diversity in order to ensure the required balance of all necessary nutrients.
  • Providing children with a balanced diet packed with all the necessary nutrients provides them with a solid foundation for an active and healthy life.
  • Each stage of the body’s immune response relies on the presence of many micronutrients. To combat hidden hunger, affordable, accessible and diverse food sources must be made available across India.
  • Micronutrients that are primarily available in fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, legumes and whole grains play a crucial role in enhancing the native and adaptive immune function and also aid ‘immune memory’ formation.

The answer – PM POSHAN (Poshan Shakti Nirman) scheme (New MDM)

  • The PM Poshan Shakti Nirman scheme aims to give a hot cooked meal to 11.8 crore government school students from Classes I to VIII.
  • From FY 2022-23 it will also cover the 24 lakh children studying in balvatikas, the pre-primary section of government schools. The balvatikas offer one year of pre-school classes.
  • The PM POSHAN scheme has been approved for the next five-year period until 2025-26, with a collective outlay of ₹1.31 lakh crore, including ₹31,733 crore as the share to be borne by the State governments.
  • It has been rebranded to provide a new shape to the policy “to enhance the nutrition levels of schoolchildren”.
  • It is expected to improve nutritional status, encourage education and learning and increase enrolments in government schools.
  • The extension of mid-day meals to pre-primary students, who are to be incorporated into the formal education system, was a key recommendation of the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020.
  • However, there has been no progress on the NEP’s other recommendation to start offering breakfasts to school students.

How the erstwhile Mid-Day-Meal Scheme came to be?

  • Post-Independence, Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce the MDM scheme in the 1960s.
  • The Central scheme to provide meals to school children began in 1995, however, most states just limited themselves to providing dry rations.

Supreme Court Order: The Game Changer

  • A Supreme Court order of 2001 provided for all states to introduce cooked meals.
  • The Supreme Court order specified the states to provide “at least 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days in a year”.

Supreme Court on MDM during Pandemic

  • The SC alerted state governments “Non-supply of nutritional food to the children as well as lactating and nursing mothers may lead to large-scale malnourishment, particularly in rural and tribal areas.”
  • Taking suo motu cognisance of the matter the Court asked states to ensure that “schemes for nutritional food for children are not adversely affected”.

Has the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme helped?

  • Research has shown how hot, cooked food attracted students to schools and improved their nutritional status.
  • MDM has been proven to attract children from disadvantaged sections (especially girls, Dalits and Adivasis) to school.
  • Along with Improvement of regularity, educational and nutritional benefits, socialisation benefits and benefits to women are also highlighted.
  • Hence, the main positives of this scheme are:
    • Avoiding classroom hunger.
    • Increased school enrolment and attendance.
    • Improved socialisation among castes.
    • Reducing malnutrition.
    • Empowering women through employment.

About the recent study on long term impact of MDM scheme

  • Girls who had access to the free lunches provided at government schools, had children with a higher height-to-age ratio than those who did not.
  • The prevalence of stunting was significantly lower in areas where the mid scheme was implemented in 2005.
  • The linkages between midday meals and lower stunting in the next generation were stronger in lower socio-economic strata and likely work through women’s education, fertility, and use of health services.

Criticism of MDM scheme and Implementation

  • Despite the success of the program, child hunger as a problem persists in India, 42.5% of the children under 5 are underweight.
  • Some simple health measures such as using iodised salt and getting vaccinations are uncommon in India.
  • Many children don’t get enough to eat, which has far-reaching implications for the performance of the country as a whole.
  • A 2005 study found that Caste based discrimination continued to occur in the serving of food.
  • Media reports have also highlighted several implementation issues, including irregularity, corruption, hygiene, caste discrimination, etc.
  • Poor food quality is a major concern, affecting the health of children (as many media reports show students falling sick dur to lapses in quality checking and control). There are provisions for regular social audit, field visits and inspections but these are seldom carried out.
  • The schools do not function during holidays and vacations which deprives children of their one daily meal.

PM Poshan Shakti Nirman scheme is not to be confused with: Poshan Abhiyaan

  • The term ‘POSHAN’ in the name of the programme stands for ‘Prime Minister’s Overarching Scheme for Holistic Nutrition’.
  • POSHAN Abhiyaan launched in 2018 aims at improving the nutritional status of Children from 0-6 years, Adolescent Girls, Pregnant Women and Lactating Mothers.
  • According to ‘Mission 25 by 2020’, the National Nutrition Mission aims to achieve a reduction in stunting from 38.4% to 25% by 2022.
  • POSHAN Abhiyaan focuses on convergence among partner Ministries leveraging technology and Jan Andolan among other things, to address issue of malnutrition comprehensively.
  • Near-real time reporting by field functionaries and improved MIS is aimed at smooth implementation of scheme and better service delivery.
  • It also targets stunting, under-nutrition, anaemia (among young children, women and adolescent girls) and low birth rate.
  • It will monitor and review implementation of all such schemes and utilize existing structural arrangements of line ministries wherever available.
  • Its large component involves gradual scaling-up of interventions supported by on-going World Bank assisted Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Systems Strengthening and Nutrition Improvement Project (ISSNIP) to all districts in the country by 2022.
  • Its vision is to ensure attainment of malnutrition free India by 2022.
  • Implementation of POSHAN Abhiyaan is based on the four-point strategy/pillars of the mission:
    1. Inter-sectoral convergence for better service delivery
    2. Use of technology (ICT) for real time growth monitoring and tracking of women and children
    3. Intensified health and nutrition services for the first 1000 days
    4. Jan Andolan

-Source: The Hindu

Living on death row with illness


Recently, “Deathworthy: A Mental Health Perspective of the Death Penalty” report by  Project 39A, based at the National Law University, Delhi, was published which explores the mental health concerns of death row prisoners, the intellectual disabilities they have, and the psychological impact of being on death row.


GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Judiciary, Important Judgements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Capital Punishment in India
  2. Highlights of the “Deathworthy” report
  3. Exempting people with mental illness from death sentence
  4. Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) judgement on Capital Punishment
  5. How capital punishment goes against the Principle of Natural justice?
  6. Bringing up Collective conscience of society
  7. Arguments in Favour of Death Penalty
  8. Arguments Against Death Penalty
  9. Way Forward: Adopting a psycho-social approach

Capital Punishment in India

  • India remains among the 55 retentionist countries where the death penalty is still handed down for certain crimes.
  • Prior to the Criminal Procedure (Amendment) Act (Cr PC) of 1955, the death penalty was the rule and life imprisonment an exception in India. Further, the courts were bound to give an explanation for awarding a lighter penalty than death for capital offences.
  • After the amendment of 1955 courts were at liberty to grant either death or life imprisonment. As per Section 354 (3) of the Cr PC, 1973 the courts are required to state reasons in writing for awarding the maximum penalty.In concurrence of this, a proposal for the scrapping of the death penalty was rejected by the Law Commission in its 35th report 1967.
  • The Indian Penal Code prescribes ‘death’ for offences such as
    • Waging war against the Government of India. (Sec. 121);
    • Abetting mutiny actually committed (Sec. 132);
    • Giving or fabricating false evidence upon which an innocent person suffers death. (Sec. 194);
    • Murder (Sec. 302);
  • Direct or indirect abetment of sati is punishable with Death penalty under the Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987.
  • Under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989 giving false evidence leading to the execution of an innocent member belonging to the SC or ST would attract the death penalty.
  • Besides these, rape of a minor below 12 years of age is punishable with death under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012.
  • Financing, producing, manufacturing as well as the sale of certain drugs attracts the death penalty for repeat offenders under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
  • Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967; Army, Navy and Air Force Acts also provide the death penalty for certain specified offences committed by members of the armed forces.

Highlights of the “Deathworthy” report

  • The report presents the detailed histories of 88 death row prisoners in India of which 30 were found with a depressive illness, 19 with anxiety disorder, and three prisoners reported having psychotic episodes.
  • Of particular concern is the fact that eight had attempted suicide and close to 50% said they had considered it.
  • Worryingly, nearly 11% of these death row prisoners were diagnosed with intellectual disabilities and most of them had deficits in intellectual functioning.
  • The report also highlights another important and neglected aspect of mental illness: the social determinants of mental illness. Mental illness is more common among the poor and those with mental illness are more likely to end up in poverty.
  • Those who have experienced childhood abuse are significantly more likely to experience mental illness in adulthood than those who did not. The report provides an insight into the poverty, abuse, neglect and violence that mark the overwhelming majority of death row prisoners with mental illness.

Exempting people with mental illness from death sentence

  • The United Nations Commission on Human Rights calls upon countries “not to impose the death penalty on a person suffering from any form of mental disorder or to execute any such person”. Yet, the laws of most countries don’t explicitly prohibit this.
  • Mental illness and intellectual disabilities complicate the death penalty. Persons with mental illness and intellectual disabilities may not be able to instruct their lawyers to mount a robust defence, thus jeopardising the right to a fair trial enshrined in our Constitution.
  • The ‘insanity defence’ in the Indian Penal Code sets such a high barrier that it can’t be met in most cases.
  • Even when there is an obvious history of mental illness, courts in India are usually unwilling to consider the plea of insanity by defence lawyers.
  • In Shatrughan Chauhan v. Union of India (2014), the Supreme Court had said that mental illness should warrant the commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment. Despite this, courts do not consider mental illness as a mitigating factor when imposing punishment.

Bachan Singh vs. State of Punjab (1980) judgement on Capital Punishment

  • The Supreme Court in its 1980 judgment in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, where a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court was called upon to decide the constitutional validity of the capital punishment, had laid down the framework for sentencing to death.
  • The Supreme court had made it very clear that Capital punishment in India can be given only in rarest of rare cases.
  • It required the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances relating to both the circumstances of the offence and the offender, to decide whether a person should be sentenced to death or given life imprisonment.
  • According to the Bachan Singh judgment, for a case to be eligible for the death sentence, the aggravating circumstances must outweigh the mitigating circumstances.
  • If the alternative punishment of life imprisonment can be “unquestionably foreclosed”, Only then can death penalty be imposed.
  • The Bachan Singh judgement recognized the age of the accused as a relevant mitigating circumstance.
  • While stating that honour killings fall within the “rarest of the rare” category, Court has recommended the death penalty be extended to those found guilty of committing “honour killings”, which deserve to be a capital crime.
  • The Supreme Court also recommended death sentences to be imposed on police officials who commit police brutality in the form of encounter killings.

How capital punishment goes against the Principle of Natural justice?

  • The first element, ‘protection of society,’ is not served by imposing the death sentence any better than by incarceration. This has been proven time and again as inmates have spent decades on death row, harming no one, but being brutalised by the inhuman punishment meted out to them.
  • Second, there are several factors which affect criminal activity and deterrence is only one of them.
  • In a UN survey, it was concluded that “capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than the threat of life imprisonment.”
  • It is not just statistics that prove the case against deterrence, so does logic. A reasonable man is deterred not by the gravity of the sentence but by the detectability of the crime.
  • Third, the facet of ‘reform and rehabilitation of the criminal’ is immediately nullified by the prospect of capital punishment
  • This leaves only the final element — ‘the retributive effect’. Killing should never be carried out based on the primal and emotive desire among human beings for revenge. Revenge is a personalised and emotional form of retribution, which often loses sight of proportionality.

Bringing up Collective conscience of society

  • ‘Collective conscience of society’ as a ground to justify death penalty was first used by the Supreme Court in the 1983 judgment of Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab.
  • In that case, the court held that when “collective conscience of society is shocked, it will expect the holders of the judicial power centre to inflict death penalty”.
  • ‘Collective Conscience of Society’ was also used in 2005 judgment in the Parliament attack case in which it awarded capital punishment to convict, Afzal Guru and 2017 judgment of the Supreme Court in the December 2012 Delhi gang rape case of Mukesh v. State of NCT of Delhi.

What is Collective Conscience of Society?

  • Collective consciousness (sometimes collective conscience or conscious) is a fundamental sociological concept that refers to the set of shared beliefs, ideas, attitudes, and knowledge that are common to a social group or society.
  • The collective consciousness informs our sense of belonging and identity, and our behavior.
  • In general, it does not refer to the specifically moral conscience, but to a shared understanding of social norms.
  • However, some experts say “Collective Conscience of Society”’ is an amorphous term, and is not possible to judicially determine what it means.

Arguments in Favour of Death Penalty

  • Arguments along the lines of “Retribution” state that real justice requires people to suffer for their wrongdoing and to suffer in a way appropriate for the crime. One of the key principles of retribution is that people should get what they deserve in proportion to the severity of their crime.
  • Capital punishment is often justified with the argument that by executing convicted murderers, we will deter would-be murderers from killing people.
  • It is often argued that the death penalty provides closure for victims’ families.
  • There are many examples of persons condemned to death taking the opportunity of the time before execution to repent, express remorse, and very often experience profound spiritual rehabilitation.

Arguments Against Death Penalty

  • The statistical evidence doesn’t confirm that deterrence works. Some capital crimes are committed in such an emotional state that the perpetrator did not think about the possible consequences. Death has been prescribed in rape cases since 2013 (Sec. 376A of IPC), still, rapes continue to happen and in fact, the brutality of rapes has increased manifold. This compels one to think of the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime.
  • The most common argument against capital punishment is that sooner or later, innocent people may get killed, because of mistakes or flaws in the justice system. According to Amnesty International – “As long as human justice remains fallible, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated.”
  • People who oppose Capital punishment are of the view that retribution is immoral, and it is just a sanitised form of vengeance.
  • Death has been abolished as a form of punishment in most of the developed countries. The UN Secretary General’s report on the death penalty presented to the Human Rights Council held that “some 170 States have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty either in law or in practice, or have suspended executions for more than 10 years”.
  • Capital punishment doesn’t rehabilitate the prisoner and return them to society.

Way Forward: Adopting a psycho-social approach

  • The courts can take a psycho-social approach towards sentence mitigation using the framework recommended by the Supreme Court in Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab (1980).
  • The apex court had laid down guidelines that courts should take into consideration before imposing the death penalty – which include mental health issues such as “extreme mental or emotional disturbance” at the time of the incident and acting under “duress”.
  • A psycho-social approach will allow courts to take into account the life history of an individual and relate this to the mental state of the individual.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023