'Junk' food hits attendance at anganwadi centres

'Junk' food hits attendance at anganwadi centres

As the protest by more than 70,000 members of the State Anganwadi Union against supply of packaged food to anganwadi centres enters the fourth day, they are raising an issue that has been controversial to say the least.

The nutritional aspects of the state’s Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) have been frowned upon time and again for the poor acceptance of packaged food. However, the Department of Women and Child Development is simply not interested.

Contract entered

In September 2009, the government, under a contract with Christy Friedgram Industries of Tamil Nadu, decided to supply readymade foods in seven formulas to be mixed into 12 different formulations, packaged and distributed at the 137 Mahila Production Centres at taluk level. The foods were expected to be cooked at the centres and served to the children, whereas the mothers and adolescents could take the packets home.This was the sorry alternative the government came up with for the hot cooked meals made of grains, lentils, vegetables and jaggery at the anganwadi centres.

Complaints soon started pouring in as the stakeholders rejected the food. ‘Pashu ahara’ (cattle feed) is how this food is often described.

Apart from the monotony of the food, the alien taste, the porridge consistency, rancid smell of oil, worm infestation and oil leakage have been reported by parents and children. And the consequences have been horrendous.

As children began to go hungry due to the unpalatable food, mothers started pulling them out of the anganwadis. This has become a worrying factor for anganwadi workers whose livelihood depends on children enrolling in these centres.

In other cases, the food was fed to the cattle at home as the mothers simply could not eat it.  Even if the food was palatable, taking home and cooking it deprived the pregnant and nursing mothers of food, as it had to be shared with other family members. That has affected the nutritional levels of the women, who have become susceptible to anaemia.

Quantity questionable

Instances were also reported where the quantity of the packaged food was also suspect. The Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, in its report on ICDS implementation, states that sometimes a one kg mix packet contains only 910 gms to 990 gms. In other cases, the ready mix formulations are not supplied as per the indents and in some other cases, the food is directly supplied from Tamil Nadu.

The present contract is also a direct violation of a Supreme Court order in 2004, which states that contracts shall not be used for supply of nutritious food  in anganwadi centres and preferably the ICDS funds shall be spent by making use of village community and self help groups and Mahila Mandals shall be used for buying grains and preparation of meals.

A Lokayukta inquiry is also pending for violation of norms in awarding the contract.

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