Ready-to-serve meal packets to tackle malnutrition

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi made the pitch on the occasion of World Hunger Day

Published - May 27, 2017 10:20 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Minister Maneka Gandhi with Akshaya Patra CEO Shridhar Venkat at the launch of the ‘Nourish India, Educate India’ movement in New Delhi on Saturday.

Union Minister Maneka Gandhi with Akshaya Patra CEO Shridhar Venkat at the launch of the ‘Nourish India, Educate India’ movement in New Delhi on Saturday.

On the occasion of World Hunger Day, Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Sanjay Gandhi made a pitch for the introduction of packets of fortified, ready-to-serve meals to tackle malnutrition.

“I believe children should be provided packets that contain 600-1,000 calories,” she said in New Delhi on Saturday while flagging off ‘Feed the Future Now’, a campaign by the NGO Akshaya Patra Foundation that aims to serve five billion meals to children across India by 2020.

“Anganwadi workers are underpaid. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that food rations meant for children keep disappearing,” Ms. Gandhi said. “We have tried many things, including offering them incentives and promotions, but nothing has worked. In Assam, for instance, food was being served to nine lakh non-existent children.”

“In some States, the mid-day meals were being prepared from very old stocks of wheat and rice. In Tamil Nadu, the kitchens were clean but the food was inedible. In other States, the meals were deficient in vital nutrients,” Ms. Gandhi said. “But a pilot programme in Uttarakhand that delivered highly nutritious ready-to-serve food packets showed amazing results in reducing malnutrition.”

Backed by private sector

The Feed the Future Now campaign has received the support of several private companies, including PepsiCo India, Nestle, Reliance Fresh, Reliance Broadcast Networks Ltd, GSK Consumer Healthcare, PVR Nest, Facebook and Viacom 18.

Former Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court in the Right to Food case Harsh Mander slammed the idea. “The involvement of for-profit companies in child nutrition programmes is a recipe for disaster, as we saw in the case of Africa, where thousands of babies suffered death and illness,” Mr. Mander said. “Freshly cooked, hot meals is the best practice the world over for fighting child malnutrition.”

Mr. Mander said, “Replacing locally prepared meals with centrally sourced food packets will only increase the scope for corruption, as private contractors, unlike anganwadi workers, are not accountable to the mothers in the community. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) has a budget of around ₹ 16,000 crore and it is clear that private companies are eyeing it as a source of income.”

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