One of India’s biggest flagship programmes, the Rs. 8,000-crore-a-year Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) to fight child malnutrition under the Integrated Child Development Scheme, suffers from gross violation and misuse of rules.
The office of the commissioners to the Supreme Court said in a report filed on Friday that a good part of the money could be finding its way to private food contractors, who had been engaged in violation of a Supreme Court order in 2004.The report explains why India, after spending so much on child nutrition, continues to be the home for one in every three malnourished children in the world. According to official data, 40% of children under three years are underweight, while 50% of all childhood deaths are attributed to malnutrition.
Veena Shatrugna, former deputy director, National Institute of Nutrition, said, “Feeding children is not rocket science. Why do we need private contractors, who would give only one kind of food and a child has to bear with it for at least a year.”
Private contractors in Maharashtra have floated front organisations controlled by their family members so that they can get around a 2004 SC order that said only self-help groups, mahila mandals and village communities be given the contracts, said the report, a copy of which is available with HT.
A preliminary HT scrutiny of the families named in the report showed they were linked to influential politicians in Maharashtra.
Ujjwal Uke, principal secretary, women and child development department, said he would be able to comment on the issue only after going through the report. “We are yet to get the copy of the report. I can comment only after I see what the report.”
But Shatrugna said things improved with the Supreme Court’s intervention. While there are still violations of the SC order in some states, Maharashtra seems to be the worst case. She said states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Chhatishgarh are doing far better. Also, states in the north are pulling up.
Despite being one of richest states, nutritional standards among children in Maharashtra have decline to the levels prevalent in poorer states like Odisha.
In UP, Meghalaya and some other states, the governments have yet to comply with the 2004 order, the report pointed out, saying “a close nexus between politicians, contractors and bureaucrats has allowed the active subversion of the letter and spirit of the SC orders.”
The report was submitted to a two-judge bench, which is hearing an appeal against one of the food suppliers in Maharashtra, whose contract was cancelled last year by the Bombay HC.
In the case of UP, they were linked to a powerful business group. When asked about the purpose of the investigation and its implications, the Office of the Commissioners to SC — appointed in 2003 to monitor government-run food and employment schemes — declined to comment.
Its report comes at a time, when the central government has doubled the allocation for ICDS to about Rs. 120,000 crore in the 12th Plan period (2012-17).
Almost half the ICDS allocations are spent on supplementary nutrition, which include providing a morning snack and a hot meal to children in the age group of 3 to 6 years and “take-home-ration” for children below 3 years. It also includes food equivalent of 300 calories for pregnant women and lactating mothers.
The contracts to supply “take-home ration in Maharashtra have been to three mahila mandals, which the investigation found were actually controlled or run by family members and relatives of private food contractors.
Each mandal has set up sub-committees and passed resolutions giving them operational control over production and finances. These sub-committees comprise family members and relatives of the private contractor(s) from whom they source food supplies and distribute through the network of the mandal.
(With inputs from Bhadra Sinha and HTC, Mumbai)