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Cost of iodised salt still under fire

india Updated: Jan 16, 2007 00:48 IST
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MORE THAN a year after the Government of India made use of iodised salt compulsory, the Madhya Pradesh Government’s decision of supplying Vanya iodised salt at a subsidised rate of Rs 1 per kg has received its share of bouquets and brickbats. While those advocating for it are obviously happy, there are a few who ask “Why for select people? Make it available at Rs 1 for all.”

On January 5, the State Government inaugurated the scheme of supplying the Vanya iodised salt through fair price shops in 89 tribal blocks in select tribal dominated districts. After its order in May 2005, the Government of India was looking forward to salt-manufacturers, consumer groups and mainly NGOs – to spread awareness – to ensure it works at the grassroots level.

Vital for human growth, experts say, it is very important that the human body receives iodine from the three months foetus stage to three years age as 90 per cent brain development takes place during this time. More than that, iodine deficiency may cause stillbirth or increase number of abortions.

Madhya Pradesh Voluntary Health Association (MPVHA) in association with UNICEF took up a ‘Social Mobilisation for Universal Salt Iodisation (USI)’ project in 2005, which is presently being run in as many as 25 districts. Welcoming the State Government’s move, MPVHA programme officer for the project Nishi Mathews said, “Part of our advocacy is to ensure availability of iodised salt at all Governmental interventions like the mid-day meal programmes, food at Government hostels and also at anganwadis.”

Head of the Department of Community Medicine at MGM Medical College here Dr Sanjay Dixit, who is also associated with the project says, “Iodine deficiency may lead to mental disability. This and goitre are very much preventable with use of iodised salt.”

Dr Dixit adds, “Iodised salt can be called as a vaccine against mental disability as its use helps in brain development.” Awareness is the key and the MPVHA project, with a multi-pronged approach, has extensively scanned rural areas also, where awareness levels are low but increasing. “We have even reached the gram sabhas. Our network of NGOs each cover a target of 5 schools in the area and two village haats,” says Somesh Shantawan, assistant programme manager with MPVHA.

UNICEF and MPVHA have carried out mapping of salt wholesalers across the State informing them about the benefits. In fact, in border areas with Gujarat and Rajasthan —- two of the three major salt producing states, where it is necessary to check road movement, District Collectorr’s help is taken even as border check post personnel are given an iodine kit to keep tab on the kind of salt that enters the State.

One discordant voice in the  whole affair is that of Mahendra Mahajan, secretary of Centre for Environment Protection Research and Development (CEPRD). “We are not against iodised salt but (against) making it compulsory,” Mahajan maintains. His calculation is simple. Ordinary salt costs just 30 paise per kg and making it iodised adds another 10 paise per kg. Add to it overheads like storage, transportation and advertisements etc, the cost cannot go beyond Rs 1.5 per kg.

But big companies and MNCs sell it at an exorbitant Rs 8 to Rs 9 per kg. “Why should a common citizen pay almost 2,000 per cent increase, which clearly is the profit gained by the MNCs?” he asks.

In fact, Jabalpur High Court had issued a notice to the Centre on November 23 in connection with the CEPRD petition regarding making compulsory the use of iodised salt. “If the Government is so keen that everyone should eat only iodised salt, why doesn’t it follow Chhattisgarh’s example, which sells Amrit Namak at Rs 2 per kg,” Mahajan adds.