ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Feeding Hungry Children

A diverse diet based on local foods is the best alternative to feed millions of malnourished children.

What young children in anganwadi centres should be fed as supplementary nutrition is once again under the scanner arising from a difference of opinion between the Niti Aayog and the Minister for Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi. There were news reports last week indicating that the minister has been pushing “energy-dense, factory-made nutrient packets” to replace all kinds of take-home rations (THRs). Her predecessors over the last decade also supported centralised production and distribution of supplementary nutrition in a similar fashion, justifying this on grounds of improved quality and hygiene of the food distributed. The controversy has been laid to rest, for the moment, with the Niti Aayog rejecting this proposal at the recent meeting of the National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges. Instead, it has stressed the need to follow the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013 and the Supplementary Nutrition (under the Integrated Child Development Services [ICDS] Scheme) Rules, 2017, and has recommended involving mothers in preparation of meals. The NFSA provides for one free meal a day for all children in the age group of six months to six years, and to pregnant and lactating mothers, through anganwadi centres. This can be in the form of THRs or hot cooked meals depending on the category of beneficiaries. The Rules for ICDS under NFSA also mention delivering food supplements under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) through self-help groups (SHGs).

For long, the ICDS had big private contractors supplying THRs in a number of states. This system has been rife with corruption and leakages. Recognising this, in 2004, the Supreme Court passed an order banning private contractors from being suppliers for the ICDS and encouraging the governments to employ local village organisations, mahila mandals or SHGs instead. Despite this, by using various legal loopholes, a number of states continue to depend on these central contracts with the contractors now operating as “original manufacturers” and even as mahila mandals sometimes. The commissioners to the Supreme Court on the right to food presented strong reports exposing the nexus between politicians, bureaucrats, and suppliers of THRs. They demanded a special investigation into the mahila mandals providing supplementary nutrition in ICDS in Maharashtra on the grounds that they were fake and were front organisations for erstwhile contractors. The Government of Maharashtra then initiated a process of decentralisation involving smaller and more local mahila mandals—a system that has been vulnerable since the day it began with repeated attempts by different governments to bring back the earlier suppliers. This issue is still contested with a number of cases ongoing in the Supreme Court. Recent attempts by the Madhya Pradesh government to cancel the supply of food supplements under the SNP through contractors and to set up mechanisms for decentralised distribution have also been embroiled in legal battles.

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Updated On : 7th May, 2018

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