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Despite bar, private players continue in nutrition scheme

A little over Rs. 8,000 crore is earmarked for the programme in the Union Budget. File photo: Vaishali R. Venkat   | Photo Credit: Vaishali R Venkat

Governments may come and go, but none of them seems particular that vulnerable infants and pregnant women in the country eat nutritious food. Else, why does the Women and Child Development Ministry, headed by Maneka Gandhi, of the Modi government keep the doors open for private food manufacturers in participating in the Supplementary Nutrition Programme as the previous United Progressive Alliance dispensation used to do?

Women’s self-help groups, village panchayats and Mahila Mandals are supposed to be the agents of change in tackling malnutrition. To this end, the Supreme Court has banned private players in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) aimed at tackling malnutrition among infants and improving the health standards of pregnant women. Documents with The Hindu show the Ministry has not stopped giving contracts to private players despite the Supreme Court orders in 2004, 2006 and 2009.

‘Ministry has misinterpreted court orders’

The Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC), kept under wraps by the Union government for a little less than a year but finally revealed last week, shows a fall in malnutrition levels in the country, but the government’s commitment to ensure nutritious food for vulnerable section remains in question.

The Women and Child Development Ministry is still not averse to having private contractors in the Supplementary Nutrition Programme for providing home rations to vulnerable infants in the age group of six months to three years and pregnant and nursing mothers. If its circular dated September 26, 2014, to the States is any indication, the Ministry is not averse to roping in private contractors.

“It is advisable that the State government/Union Territories should get the nutritious food prepared/manufactured by only competent and capable groups or entities, who comply with the stipulations, irrespective of whether these are self-help groups, mahila mandals, village community or a manufacturer and strictly adhered to,” it says.

Activists say the Ministry has misread a 2011 Supreme Court judgment. A note prepared by the Commissioners of the Supreme Court says, “Ministry of Women and Child Development has erred in interpreting the Supreme Court orders by reading it to the effect that these orders allow involvement of private manufacturers in preparation of supplementary food.”

The Supreme Court Commissioners, who act as watchdogs to ensure the scheme is implemented, reported in 2012 that in some States such as Uttar Pradesh, the contract for the scheme was awarded to Great Value Foods of Ponty Chaddha. In States such as Meghalaya, the Noida-based Continental Milkose is the supplier.

Dependent on contractors

As much as 75 per cent of the budget of the supplementary programme, under the ICDS, goes to providing home rations to vulnerable infants in the age group of six months to three years and pregnant and nursing mothers. Children in anganwadis are to be served hot meals. Involvement of commercial players in the procurement and supply chain of providing food to children raises concern. An e-mail sent to the Ministry went unanswered at the time of writing this report.

Roughly a little over Rs. 8,000 crore is earmarked for the programme in the Union Budget. Barring a few States, notably Kerala and Orissa, the rest continue to rely on contractors.


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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 8:01:47 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/despite-bar-private-players-continue-in-nutrition-scheme/article7404746.ece

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