Take-home ration tenders: State ignored Supreme Court report
In what appears to be a bid to allow back door entry of private contractors in the lucrative take home rations (THR) tenders , the women and child development department seems to have wilfully ignored the last report and letter from the SC commissioner’s office in May 2015mumbai Updated: Jul 15, 2016 00:27 IST
In what appears to be a bid to allow back door entry of private contractors in the lucrative take home rations (THR) tenders worth Rs 6,300 crore, the state’s women and child development department seems to have wilfully ignored the last report and letter from the Supreme Court commissioner’s office in May 2015.
The department led by minister Pnakaja Munde suffered a blow this week as Aurangabad bench of the Mumbai High court scrapped an essential clause in the tender and asked it to come out with a new notice. (The order was released on Wednesday. See box).
The SC report had insisted on decentralization and made a larger point of non requirement of extrusion technology (fully automated machines) for preparing the THR, as investing in such machinery would reduce the scope of number of mahila mandals employed for the contracts.
The Supreme Court commissioners intervened in the matter following a letter sent by former state women and child development department secretary Ujwal Uke in December 2014, seeking greater clarity on the circular issued by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in September 2014 that called for tightening of food quality and standards on basis of a court judgement in 2011 Shagun Mahila mandal case and had allowed entry of manufacturers in this supply chain of THR.
In response commissioner and special commissioner of the Supreme Court N C Saxena and Harsh Mander wrote to the Chief Secretary Swadhin Kshatriya on May 30, 2015, making it clear that while hygiene and quality remain central to supplementary nutrition offered through Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), the supply of the take home rations had to be decentralized and carried out only through women self help groups at local levels. The letter was attached along with a report filed by advisor to the apex court commissioners, Dipa Sinha, after she surveyed and inspected women self help groups in Pune. She surveyed projects to report on the use and need of extrusion machines (fully automated machines) for the use of the THR packets and opined that they were not necessary.
``The Ministry of Women and Child Development ministry has erred in interpreting the Supreme Court order dated 22.04.2009 in PUCL case and the judgement in Shagun Mahila case by reading it to the effect that these orders allow involvement of private manufacturers…’’. The letter adds that THR supply should be made by small units that are local in nature and the state government should continue to set up supply through mahila mandals, village communities and strengthen them by timely payments, capacity building and low interest loans.
Sinha reported that extrusion technology based units require huge start up costs, require larger scale of production to be viable and goes against spirit of decentralization. Her findings say that those units that don’t use extrusion create more employment, are viable at decentralized level, are hygienic and can be managed by local women self help groups. The report also found lacunae in delay in payments and work orders to self help groups that jeopardized their success.
In the end, she stated that initial Expression of Interest (issued in 2013) was based on a certain understanding and this should not be changed.
The letter along with the report and spirit of the directives given time and again by the Supreme Court commissioners has been ignored in the tender issued by the state government this year.
High Court blow to Munde’s department, asks it to issue tender again :
• The women and child development department’s new tender issued in March this year, went against the very premise of decentralization as mandated by various Supreme court orders by reducing the number of existing blocks or tenderers from 533 to 70. The court has scrapped this clause.
• The order has asked the government to conduct a survey of women self help groups that are eligible (ones with extrusion machines and meeting other tender conditions) to form projects in as many blocks as possible and then issue the notice
• The court also asked government to reconsider authority given to the commissioner ICDS to give contract in respect of 50 per cent of projects to one mahila mandal. It cautioned against monopolist situation where projects are controlled by handful of groups.