Maneka Gandhi at loggerheads with her Ministry over nutrient packets

While the Women and Child Development Minister wants “energy-dense, factory-made” nutrient packets as take-home ration, the Ministry is in favour of “sourcing food items... from self-help groups”.

April 11, 2018 08:00 pm | Updated April 12, 2018 11:21 am IST - New Delhi

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi

Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi finds herself at odds with her Ministry officials over the issue of food for anganwadi beneficiaries.

While Ms. Gandhi wants “energy-dense, factory-made” nutrient packets as take-home ration for pregnant women and lactating mothers as well as children between the age of six months and three years, her Ministry is in favour of “sourcing food items such as dalia and khichdi, prepared with locally available ingredients, from self-help groups”, according to a top government official.

As a result, two different draft nutrition guidelines were prepared — one by Ms. Gandhi and another by her Ministry – ahead of a meeting of the Nutrition Advisory Technical Board at NITI Aayog on January 24.

Before the meeting was convened, Women and Child Development secretary R.K. Shrivastava wrote to Principal Advisor, NITI Aayog, Ratan P. Watal, opposing the guidelines prescribed by Ms. Gandhi and requested that the discussion on nutrient packets be dropped from its agenda.

The differences continue to be played out even as the the newly-constituted National Nutrition Council is slated to hold its first meeting on April 18 and the WCD ministry has to finalise its agenda.

The source who is privy to these events said that complying with Ms. Gandhi’s recommendations would imply a move towards “centralisation and corporatisation of anganwadi food.” “We (need to) follow the Act and rules,” the official said.

Ms. Gandhi told The Hindu , “I want pre-mix made by machines and by state governments. Let us look at giving nutrients in a safe manner. Each state can make its own mash with local ingredients. These can be in powdered form and mixed with regular meals. The take-home ration given today is an ugly, non-nutritious mix. Let us stop thinking of giving food and instead think of giving nutrition.”

While a pre-mix of micronutrients or ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) – high-energy, micro-nutrient enhanced paste – is sometimes prescribed to treat children under five years who suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM), the minister has recommended giving nutrient packets to all pregnant and lactating mothers and children from six months to three years. “Why wait for a child to suffer from SAM?” Ms. Gandhi asked.

The Minister has suggested that 30 packets for a month can be dispatched to a beneficiary through the postal department.

She has also said that the daily allocation of ₹8 (for children between six months and three years) should be spent on nutrition and not on generating livelihood for women of self-help groups. The Supplementary Nutrition Rules, 2017, mandate engagement of self-help groups.

As per the government’s Supplementary Nutrition Programme under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), take-home ration is distributed to pregnant women and lactating mothers as well as children between the age of six months to three years, while children between three and six years get hot, cooked meals.

In a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office last November, it was reiterated that the policy on take-home ration and hot cooked meals “will continue as prescribed under the existing scheme of ICDS and as mandated by the National Food Security Act.

Take-home rations include wheat, soya and sugar.

 "As a concept I am much more supportive of the food-based or diet-based approach as opposed to processed or product food. If we take the recent Brazilian experience, they have started guidelines solely based on ultra processed to processed food and it has been shown that to a great extent the epidemic of obesity and non-communicable diseases(NCDs) is being driven by processed food consumption from a very young age, ". said Dr HPS Sachdev, Sitaram Bhartia Institute of Science and ResearchHe added with food-based approach agriculture is likely to get a boost and local employment generation is expected to rise. "Every child is not a sick child. Only some SAM children are sick and need special food. If healthy children are given are at the risk of getting malnourished if they don't get adequate diet and that is what we should be trying to provide," said Dipa Sinha, Convenor of Right to Foods Campaign.

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