Private agency in dock over supply of 'nutritious' food

Contract signed with Christy Friedgram in violation of SC guidelines

The government had signed a contract with Christy in 2007 for the supply of nutritious food under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

The contract was a clear violation of the Supreme Court orders of October 7, 2004 and reiterated in December 2006, that private contractors shall be banned from supplying the supplementary nutrition. Instead, local women’s self-help groups (SHGs) and Mahila Mandals were to be encouraged to supply the supplementary food distributed in anganwadi centres.

Now, after a note from the Commissioners of the Supreme Court to the government, pointing out the violation, the Department is preparing a note for the cancellation of the contract.

Christy’s contract with the government is for a period of five years and is set to expire in May 2012.

Sources in the DWCD said that legal opinion had been sought in 2007 before signing the contract and it was decided to go ahead with the contract. “Later, it was decided to cancel the contract and Christy went to Court. It was only after the government decided to continue the contract that the case was withdrawn,” the sources said.

The supply of food by Christy has been a contentious issue. The company supplies pre-mixed packaged food in the form of seven formulas to be mixed into 12 different formulations. These are  packaged and distributed at the 137 Mahila Production Centres at the taluk level.

Complaints galore

The food is cooked at the centres and served to the children, whereas the mothers and adolescents can take the packets home and cook them. Widespread complaints against the food have come to the fore since its introduction, as the rejection rate has been high for several reasons. Often termed as ‘cattle feed’, the packages have been known to have the rancid smell of oil, worm infestation and oil leakage, apart from the ‘foreign taste’.

The Karnataka Commission for Protection of Child Rights, in its report on ICDS implementation, has stated that sometimes a one kg mix packet has only 910 gm to 990 gm. 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, where Christy is based.

A Lokayukta inquiry is also pending for violation of norms in awarding the contract. Despite all this, the Department had been sitting pretty on the contract. But now, after the reminder from Supreme Court, it has decided to act.

Clifton D’Rozario, the State advisor to the Commissioners of the Supreme Court on Right to Food, says that several reminders were sent to the government about the violation of the Supreme Court order.

“We strongly raised the issue with the chief secretary in July this year and he promised to place the matter before the Cabinet,” D’Rozario said.

He said that it was not merely the question of the quality of food, but also providing regional and culturally-specific food. “All aspects need to be looked into. It is a matter of rights of children,” he said.

D’Rozario feels that the issue of malnutrition of children having come to the fore and the High Court taking cognisance have forced the government to finally decide on cancelling the contract.

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