differences between women and child development minister Renuka Choudhury and the Planning Commission over providing food to poor children under the Integrated Child Development Services (icds) have escalated to a stand-off.
In May, the ministry forwarded a plan to compulsorily provide poor children micronutrient-fortified, ready-to-eat food instead of hot cooked meal as part of the revamped icds scheme proposed to the Expenditure Finance Committee. The proposal is to give fortified food for the first two years of the eleventh Five Year Plan.
The Planning Commission has assigned Rs 52,000 crore to the icds scheme under the eleventh Five Year Plan. Now the ministry has sent a proposal of Rs 72,000 crore to the committee for the expansion of the scheme.
The proposals evoked strong response from the Prime Minister's Office (pmo) and the Planning Commission. The pmo has asked the ministry to do away with those portions in its proposal to the Expenditure Finance Committee that violate the Supreme Court ruling and interfere with the continuance of the current arrangements in the state that have introduced hot cooked meals.
In 2004, the Supreme Court had ordered that hot cooked meal be provided to children and contractors kept at bay from the Supplementary Nutrition Programme of icds.
In a letter written to the Expenditure Finance Committee and the ministry on July 11, the Planning Commission has threatened to withdraw support to the expansion proposal of icds in case hot cooked meal was replaced with ready-to-eat food. The commission sees as retrograde the step to introduce ready-to-eat food as a pilot project, especially since all but nine states in the country have fully switched to hot cooked meal.
Members of the planning commission have specified that procuring fortified food will lead to centralization and if it is fortified locally it will expose children to the risk of excessive doses of micronutrients.
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