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Study reveals graft in child nutrition scheme

Shillong, Dec. 9: A group of NGOs today said independent tests prove that the Meghalaya social welfare department and its contractors/manufacturers garner an average of Rs 12 crore per year through the supply of substandard food to children under the supplementary nutrition programme of the integrated child development scheme.

The Civil Society Women’s Organisation and the Freedom Project said the scheme, a flagship programme of the Centre to reduce child malnutrition, is in a shambles in Meghalaya.

“The social welfare department, rather than using the programme to fight high levels of child malnutrition and abysmal maternal health, has been in collusion with unscrupulous contractors/manufacturers, bureaucrats and politicians. They have used the programme to siphon off money and supply substandard, unhealthy nutritional supplements to children like pre-cooked instant noodles containing monosodium glutamate (MSG), malted milk product and milk powder,” the NGOs represented by Agnes Kharshiing and Angela Rangad said.

They said these actions are in clear violation of the Supreme Court orders in the writ petition (civil) 196/2001, PUCL vs Union of India and others.

The Supreme Court ordered that the children coming to Anganwadi centres will have to be served hot cooked meals and take-home rations shall also be provided.

It also stated that in order to stop contractors from profiting from this programme, food items shall be procured using local women’s groups, self-help groups and others.

“Initially, the state government followed the Supreme Court orders and engaged local women’s groups and self-help groups to procure and supply the food items to the centres. But within a year, contractors were allowed a backdoor entry in the name of being manufacturers,” the NGOs alleged.

They also alleged that all this was done without any public knowledge or public announcement/tender.

“They not only started supplying pre-cooked instant noodles with MSG but also unknown brands of biscuits, milk powder and malted food,” the NGOs added.

In 2009-2010, the social welfare department spent Rs 8 crore on a brand of instant noodles, which they were not supposed to supply, they alleged.

“More money was additionally spent on milk powder and malted milk products. Meghalaya spends more than 75 per cent of the Rs 16 crore earmarked annually for the programme to pay illegal contractors/manufacturers who supply substandard and poisonous food,” the NGO statement added.

Stating that the department had stopped supplying noodles and biscuits after a public outcry and audit remarks, the statement said, “But they are still supplying malted food and milk powder in spite of an audit that observed illegalities in their procurement. The National Institute of Nutrition tests prove that these food products are extremely substandard and unhealthy.”

Moreover, the NGOs said the department procures milk powder and malted food directly from a Dibrugarh-based company.

“The department claims that by procuring directly from manufacturers they are not only following the Supreme Court orders, but are also ensuring supply of high quality nutritious food to the children, adolescent girls, pregnant, and lactating mothers of Meghalaya,” the statement said.

Recently, the NGOs pointed out that the office of the commissioners of the Supreme Court in the writ petition (civil) 196/2001, PUCL v. Union of India and others, found largescale mafia-like nexus between contractors/manufacturers, bureaucrats and politicians in the supply of supplementary nutrition programme to ICDS in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and others.

“The Meghalaya supplier of malted food also came under the scanner because it supplies to the ICDS programme in Uttar Pradesh,” the NGOs added.

“In the light of these developments, the office of the commissioners also carried out quality tests on samples picked up randomly from across the country, including Anganwadi centres of Meghalaya,” the statement stated.

The samples were from food items like fortified malted milk and fortified milk powder and these were sent them for testing to the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.

These tests and their analysis have been submitted to the Supreme Court, the NGOs said.

Part C of the report of the commissioners to the Supreme Court contains the nutrient analysis of the sample take home rations collected from four states (Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Meghalaya), carried out by National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad.

“The institute’s data shows significant gap between state specifications and results of the lab test,” the report stated.

The report submitted by N.C. Saxena, commissioner and Harsh Mander, special commissioner, said: “We reiterate our concern for the health, nutrition and life of millions of children in India, in the larger public interest and in order to be able to indisputably establish the facts of this case, we would again request the Supreme Court to set up an independent special investigation team (SIT) to inquire into the matter.”