Two of the world’s biggest children’s food programmes — the Mid-Day Meal scheme and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) — are facing a food crunch. Reason: a new distribution system adopted by the Food Ministry from this financial year.
According to the new system, allocation of foodgrain quota will take place every three months. Till last year, states were allowed to lift their annual allocations of wheat and rice round the year. Now, inability to lift grains within the stipulated period means the quota will lapse.
Sudharshan Pant, commissioner for the Mid-Day Meal scheme in Rajasthan, has told the Centre the state lost 52,000 metric tonnes of foodgrains in the last three months. The reason given was the new distribution system. While Uttar Pradesh authorities said it was unable to lift about 60,000 metric tones, Karnataka also reported a huge loss. In Bihar, over 40,000 metric tonnes could not be lifted due to floods, state education department officials told HT.
Of the total 29 lakh metric tonnes of wheat and rice allocated to the HRD Ministry for providing mid-day meals to 11.74 crore children in 2008-09, the state governments lifted only 32 per cent in the first six months.
Similarly, the Women and Child Development Ministry — which runs the Rs 5,000-crore ICDS to feed children below three years in 10.53 anganwadis — has been able to utilise only about 31 per cent of its annual quota of 5.40 lakh metric tones. “The Food Ministry has stipulated such a bureaucratic method that it allows us only five to 10 days to lift our entire quota of food,” a Bihar official said. “We have sought immediate revision of the guidelines and a coordination committee to prevent food shortage for essential child nutrition programmes,” said a WCD Ministry official.
The Food Ministry refused to accept the blame and instead accused the states, saying they provided details of foodgrain requirement only at the last moment, causing delay in issuing release orders.