Is embarrassing Gujarat data holding back the Indian Health and Nutrition Survey?

According to the BBC, the massive undertaking that is the Indian Health and Nutrition Survey has been completed, should have been released in October 2014, was last issued in 2007 and even has an encouraging story to tell. But the data on Gujarat is not an edifying tale in comparison to other states. Economic growth in the state has not translated into any major advance compared to other states. In fact the Gujarat performance is worse than most. 42% of all children are stunted and half of all children are malnourished.

Is the report too damaging to Modi’s Gujarat story? And is it therefore being held back by Modi’s public relations managers? The official position is that the methodology is being reviewed. But it is more likely being held back to somehow massage the Gujarat figures. It will be difficult because copies of the completed – but not officially released – report are now available widely.


Good health data is rare in India. The last time the country published a comprehensive, state-wide survey was back in 2007. So why hasn’t a vast survey of women and children carried out by the Indian government with the UN agency for children, Unicef, been released?

India’s so-called Rapid Survey of Children was a huge undertaking. Almost 100,000 children were measured and weighed and more than 200,000 people interviewed across the country’s 29 states. The final report was due for publication in October last year, the BBC understands. Yet, more than half a year later, the important body of data remains secret.

Leading development economist Jean Dreze describes the delay in publication as “an absolute scandal”. “All the neighbouring countries including Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Pakistan and even Afghanistan have up to date nutritional surveys,” he says. “It is hard to account for a 10-year gap without attributing some sort of political reluctance.” …..

Looking just at the overall figures, India’s reluctance to publish the survey is rather surprising. It shows the country has an encouraging story to tell. Indicators of malnutrition are still very high, far higher than most African nations, but they are improving. Ten years ago, two-fifths of children under five were underweight, now it is more like a third.

However, the survey confirms large and enduring discrepancies between states, including the continuing strikingly poor performance of the Indian prime minister’s home state, Gujarat. As chief minister, Narendra Modi ran the state for more than a decade. His general election campaign was based on the promise that he would do for India what he had done for Gujarat.

Is anybody surprised?


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