Special Correspondent

Centre’s proposal draws flak from civil society groups

Ready-to-use foods not likely to lead to improved nutrition

Vast cultural and food diversity will be destroyed

NEW DELHI: Strongly opposing the Centre’s proposal to serve ‘ready-to-eat’ meals under its Mid-Day Meal Scheme, civil society groups and professional bodies have said that it would go against the interest of India’s children and women, besides being in direct contradiction to the orders of the Supreme Court.

Not recommended

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, they pointed out that technical experts in India and other countries have never recommended packaged meals for infants and children.

They said countries were moving away from such foods towards healthy eating habits for their population in their nutrition action.

They hoped he would be able to “change the direction of national child health and nutrition programmes in India including universalising Anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Services scheme towards saving more than 100 million underweight children and preventing 2 million child deaths under the age of five.”

They said “ready-to-use foods” in whatever form would lead to not just dependency on processed foods and set an unhealthy trend in the country but also destroy our vast cultural and food diversity.

“This proposal is not likely to result in improved nutrition outcomes because of fundamental problems of sustainability and poverty. Moreover, it is likely to increase corruption, as has been clearly foreseen by the comments on the proposal by the Union Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office,” the letter said.

Further, they said that if the Cabinet accepted this proposal, it would legitimise the transformation of poverty and child malnutrition into a source of profit for the food industry, and public funds would begin a reverse flow towards the industry rather than towards eradicating the root causes of underdevelopment and inequity that led to such problems.

Policy sought

Appealing to Dr. Singh to strike down the proposal, moved by the Union Women and Child Development Ministry, they asked him to lay down a policy to provide locally procured and prepared meals to children in the ICDS programme as per the Supreme Court order of October 7, 2004 which was reiterated on December 13, 2006.

Earmarked budget

Besides suggesting linking of the ICDS programme with the National Rural Health Mission, the letter recommended comprehensive coordinated action plan with earmarked budget for protecting and promoting early and exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months supplemented by indigenous, sustainable home-made foods.

The signatories to the letter include Harsh Mander, Vina Mazumdar, Jean Dreze, Vandana Prasad, Mira Shiva, Biraj Patnaik, Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, K. Shanmugam Velayutham, and Savitri Ray among others.