A report submitted to the Supreme Court today has pointed to large-scale irregularities in the supply of supplementary nutrition to children through the Union government-sponsored Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
Prepared by Biraj Patnaik, principal adviser to court-appointed food commissioner NC Saxena, the report establishes links between private contractors and the women’s self-help groups supplying nutritional products in aanganwadis in what is clearly a violation of the court’s order barring private contractors from the supply chain for nutritional products.
It is understood that Patnaik’s report points to “a close nexus between politicians, contractors and bureaucrats that has allowed for this active subversion”.
According to the preliminary findings, this “subversion” could not have been possible without “complicity at the highest levels of governance in Maharashtra”.
The report submitted before the SC cites a DNA Investigation story (How many deaths will it take till govt knows that too many kids have died?) that used private laboratory tests to show that the Take Home Rations (THR) being supplied to children in the state do not meet nutritional norms.
The report has found similar “subversion” in other states across the country by the various private firms supplying packaged food and other items. “In some states like Uttar Pradesh,” it is understood, “private companies like Great Value Foods” have been contracted for providing supplementary nutrition “in complete violation of the Supreme Court orders".
A similar situation was found in states like Karnataka and Meghalaya. In Meghalaya, it was found that a company operating out of NOIDA in Uttar Pradesh, namely Continental Milkose (India) Ltd, “provides supplementary nutrition for ICDS” in the state.
In Maharashtra, contracts to supply THR — an integral part of the ICDS — have been given to three mahila mandals, says the report. They are:
- Venkateshwara Mahila Audhyogic Utpadan Sahakari Sanstha
- Mahalaxmi Mahila Gruhaudyog & Balvikas Buddheshiya Audhyogic Sahakari Sanstha
- Maharashtra Mahila Sahakari Garhudyog Sanstha Ltd
According to the preliminary investigation by Patnaik, each subcommittee of these mahila mandals or SHGs has office-bearers or members related to private entrepreneurs. Despite the obvious conflict of interest and violation of the apex court’s orders, these SHGs either contract or subcontract the supply of THR or supplementary nutrition to companies headed by their own relatives.
For instance, in the Venkateshwara Mahila Mandal the two subcommittees have Sapna Pagariya and Vanmala Munde as key office-bearers. In subcommittee-2, it was found that the supply of THR has been contracted to Paras Agro Pvt Ltd — a company headed by Vanmala's husband and Swati's father Satishrao Munde. Similar instances have been specified in other two mahila mandals as well.
While the report states that it must not be treated as “comprehensive indictment of the parties concerned” and be rather viewed as a preliminary report, one of the food commissioners under whose supervision it was prepared, Harsh Mander, has pleaded before the apex court that a special investigation team be set up to “probe the allegations made in the report.”
The report's findings come at a time when the National Family Health Survey 3 has found that nearly 5,000 children die in India daily of preventable causes like malnutrition. The ICDS is the “only institutional mechanism of the government” to deal with issues pertaining to children below six.