There has been an animated debate
in the past three years over the
supply of food in the ICDS
(Integrated Child Development
Services) programme. Supplementary
nutrition has been provided to all
children under the age of six since the
inception of the programme more than
three decades ago. This was done with
the recognition that the nutrition gap
(between what children should be consuming
every day and what they actually
have) is more than 500 calories.
This is one of the reasons for the
high incidence of child malnutrition in
India: 46 per cent. This is double the
malnutrition rate of sub-Saharan Africa,
and has registered a mere 1 per cent
decline between 1999 and 2006.
The fact that this rate of child
malnutrition persists in the second
fastest growing economy makes it all the
Till a few years ago, the entire supplementary nutrition programme was borne by the state government. States were, therefore, given the freedom to decide on the mode of procurement and distribution of food in the ICDS centres. Barring a few notable ex ceptions, most states used private contractors to procure and distribute food. The quality was greatly compromised and more often than not food did not reach the ICDS centres.
It was well known that contracts were given to private players who greased the system. The politician-bureaucrat- contractor nexus was established.
This led to the Supreme Court order of October 7, 2004, banning the participation of private contractors in the programme and directing that funds for supplementary nutrition be given to mahila mandals, women's self-help gro ups and village communities. The logic of the move was fairly simple. Feeding children was not rocket science, and surely communities would be able to provide hot, cooked meals to children. Besides, decentralization of the funds would allow communities to keep a closer watch on the food being provided at the ICDS centres, and, indeed, increase their participation in the programme.
It would also allow communities to make culturally appropriate food choices. In any case, a hot, cooked meal was already being provided in government and government-aided primary schools on the directions of the Supreme Court. It could be replicated in ICDS.
|Many states supply food to children through private contractors, despite the Supreme Court ban|
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