Staff Correspondent

SHIMLA: A number of social and medical activists representing various organisations have written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh against serving packaged food instead of meals prepared by village communities under the Integrated Child Development Scheme to eight crore children covered under the scheme.

Arun Gupta, national coordinator of the Breast Feeding Promotion Network of India said they have written with a hope that the direction of national child health and nutrition programmes, including universalising Anganwari Centres of ICDS towards saving more than 100 million underweight children and preventing 2 million under-five deaths, would change.

He said if the Cabinet allows the ready-to-eat food plan, it would circumvent the Supreme Court orders. The Court had barred the entry of contractors for the supply of nutrition in Anganwaris and had recommended the use of village communities, SHGs and Mahila Mandals for buying of grains and preparation of meals.

Dr. Gupta said no expert had ever recommended that children be provided packaged meals. Ready-to-use food will lead to dependency on processed food, set an unhealthy trend and destroy our food diversity, he said.

Also, introducing ready-to-use food in a programme such as the ICDS was likely to increase corruption.

By accepting this proposal, the Cabinet will legitimise the transformation of poverty and child malnutrition into profits for the food industry; public funds will begin a reverse flow towards the industry rather than towards eradicating the root causes of underdevelopment and inequity.

The members of civil society also asked for consultations with public health experts towards eliminating child malnutrition.

The signatories to the letter included Economist Jean Dreze, A.K Shiva, Harsh Mander, Vandana Prasad, Radha Holla and many other medical and social experts.