The Right to Food Campaign has expressed concern over plans to convert all take home rations, given by anganwadi centres to children and pregnant and lactating women, to energy-dense, factory-made nutrient packets, as proposed by the WCD Ministry.
In a letter to WCD Minister Maneka Gandhi, the civil society network of activists and organisations said that such a move would open doors for private contractors and suppliers, taking control over what was given in anganwadi centres away from local communities.
According to reports, Gandhi proposed a pre-mix made by machines with local ingredients which would come in powdered form to be mixed with regular meals, ensuring that every beneficiary gets nutrients in a safe manner.
"Children need adequate quantities of wholesome, diverse foods to grow and develop. These foods should meet their requirements of various nutrients, as well as calories. Lack of enough food, especially diverse food, means that children are unable to meet their nutritional requirements," the group said.
It said that any intervention that replaced locally made food compromises decentralised autonomy and community control.
It also said that its battle was against the role of private contractors in the supply of supplementary nutrition in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
"In state after state it has been seen that the unholy nexus between the contractors and politicians/ bureaucrats results in central contracts worth hundreds of crores for supply of food to ICDS.
"The quality of food supplied to the centres is compromised while companies make profits from the meagre allocations for supplementary nutrition," the letter said referring to alleged scams that were brought to light in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh recently.
It also said that the provision of nutritious, cooked meals at the anganwadi was a form of nutrition education. It helped to convey what a nutritious meal looked like, and to spread the notion that children require a regular and balanced intake of various nutrients.
It provided the opportunity to create employment for local women as well as demand for local product such as vegetables, eggs. All of this possible only when the food was produced in a decentralised manner, they said.
"We are opposed to these repeated attempts to serve commercial interests in the supply of nutrition in ICDS. The Supreme Court orders related to banning private contractors must be strictly adhered to...Local groups must be provided the training and support required to deliver nutritious and hygienic food," it said.
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