World’s biggest nutrition scheme, Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), is riddled with corruption in giving contracts in four big states. Also, the ready to eat food being provided is nutrition deficit, a Supreme Court appointed committee has found, urging the court to constitute a special investigation team to look into the “politician-bureaucracy and contractor nexus”.
The report of Biraj Pathnaik, principal advisor to the office of SC’s food commissioners, based on a ground study in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka and testing of food samples by central government’s Hyderabad based National Institute of Nutrition, says the “rot is systematic” and people responsible for “stealing food from children of poor and marginalized communities” in the country should be booked.
The report shows that how Uttar Pradesh government helped Great Value Foods owned by Ponty Chadda, who with his brother Hardeep Singh were killed in their farmhouse in south Delhi last month, to garner contracts for providing supplementary nutrition under the Central government’s ICDS scheme in violation of Supreme Court orders.
Despite the Supreme Court banning procurement of food from contractors in 2004, the report said, the UP government gave contract to Great Value Foods, which set up a processing plant in Bahraich district for supplying ready to eat food to anganwadis in Gorakhpur and 11 other districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh.
“The food being supplied does not contain the nutritional ingredients it claims to contain and the weaning food is not particularly suitable for babies,” the report said with reference to Chadda’s company. The company with registered office in Delhi was not available for comments despite repeated attempts. The report also pointed out the government favoured other private contractors through its tendering process.
In Karnataka, the report quoted state Lokayukta police to claim that three state women and child development department officials received bribe from a private contractor for tampering with the tendering process and later for supplying poor quality food. They “acquired properties” from the ill-gotten money, the report said.
The report also belied the impression has been created in Karnataka and Gujarat that the ready to eat food was being supplied by women self-help groups. It said the reality was that the contractors were supplying substandard food to anganwadi centers and in Gujarat the tendering process excluded women groups from bidding by seeking special blending of fortified food.
The claims of the state government and private producers of children getting good quality food had fallen flat with the National Institute of Nutrition certifying most samples to be nutrition deficient on several counts.
The vitamins were below detectable limit in all samples from Maharashtra and UP. Similarly, samples from all four states were deficient in proteins. “The energy level was 40 % less in samples for Gujarat and 30 % less in Maharashtra,” the report said, adding that the results show serious gaps in quality of ready to eat food being supplied in anganwadi centers.
“We reiterate our concern for the health, nutrition and life of millions of children in India, in the larger public interest we again request the Supreme Court to set up an independent Special Investigation Team (SIT) to enquire into the matter,” said NC Saxena and Harsh Mander, special commissioners of the court.