Union Food and Public Distribution Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey said in New Delhi on Monday that the Centre has started the second phase of distribution of fortified rice from April 1. Mr. Pandey said so far 90 districts have been covered and the Centre is targeting 291 districts.
Started in October 2021, the pet scheme of Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to supply fortified rice to beneficiaries through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) and Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman-PM POSHAN schemes.
When asked about the health risks involved in the consumption of fortified rice and the warnings experts had given to the Centre against such a scheme, Mr. Pandey claimed that benefits of rice fortification far outweigh the harmful effects. He added that a comprehensive concurrent evaluation mechanism has been put in place.
“All states have set up a steering committee headed by the chief secretary that will review the whole distribution. The State medical department and ground functionaries are generally aware of pockets where and what kind of diseases are prevalent,” Mr. Pandey said.
Mr. Pandey said the Food Corporation of India (FCI) has procured about 90 lakh tonnes of fortified rice and about 2.20 lakh tonnes have been supplied to 90 districts in 16 States. He was confident that the entire quantity of fortified will be procured before the end of this year. “It is a continuous and complex process. About 90 lakh tonne is available with FCI and lifting is done by the states,” he said and added: “We are hopeful that we will be able to cover the requirement of the phase-2 target for high burden districts.”
Joint Secretary in the Ministry S. Jagannathan said the cost of fortification was getting reduced as the programme expanded its ambit. He said malnutrition cost the country ₹77,000 crore annually in terms of lost productivity, illness and death. He added that the country lost about 1% of GDP from anaemia.
“One rupee spent on nutritional interventions in India could generate ₹34.1-₹38.6 in public economic returns,” he said.
Additional Professor at Centre for Community Medicine, AIIMS-Delhi Kapil Yadav said in his presentation that though there are some rare risks involved in fortified rice, the benefits are far more. “A disclaimer of rice fortification has been put in India unlike in other countries so that people are aware of what they are consuming,” he said.