Activists urge govt to reject ready-to-eat food proposal

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New Delhi, Oct 2 (UNI) Nutritionists, economists, health experts and social activists have urged the government to reject a controversial proposal to serve ready-to-eat meals to poor children across the country under the Integrated Child Development Services(ICDS) scheme likely to be discussed by the Union Cabinet tomorrow.

In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Leader of the Opposition and all Cabinet Ministers, they called for changing the direction of national child health and nutrition programmes,including universalising 'anganwadi' centres, for saving more than 100 million underweight children and preventing 2 million child deaths under the age five.

Expressing their deep concern over the repackaged proposal by the Women and Child Development Ministry to provide ready-to-eat food to 8 crore children, they said it had already been opposed by the PMO, Finance Ministry, Planning Commission, and the Supreme Court.

After the four had slammed the Ministry's proposal, the repackaged proposal was discussed in the Finance Ministry's Expenditure Finance Committee(EFC) on Tuesday. EFC reportedly did not pursue it as the Finance Ministry officials had dubbed the proposal "dubious".

The apex court order of October 7, 2004 had directed that contractors shall not be used for supply of nutrition in 'anganwadis' and preferably ICDS funds shall be spent by making use of village communities, self-help groups and Mahila Mandals for buying of grains and preparation of meals. It reiterated the same position on December 13, 2006, according to the activists.

Slammming the repackaged proposal of the Ministry, they said use of all kinds of industrially produced pre-packaged foods containing therapeutic contents without any guidelines or safeguards will go against the interests of children and women.

They asked when many countries, including developed ones, are moving away from such foods why India should take retrograde stand.

They contended that the ready-to-use food proposal in a national programme like ICDS is also likely to increase corruption.

They said if the Cabinet accepts this proposal it will legitimise transformation of poverty and child malnutrition into a source of profit for the food industry instead of eradicating root causes of underdevelopment and inequity that leads to such problems.

Harsh Mander, Dr Vina Mazumdar, Mina Swaminathan, Jean Dreze, AK Shiv Kumar, Rahul Dev, Dr Vandana Prasad, Dr Arun Gupta,Dr. Mira Shiva, Dr R K Anand, Dr J P Dadhich, Dr Dharam Prakash, Dr RK Aggarwal, Enakshi Ganguly Thukral, Dr K S Velayutham, Dr P K Shah among several others are signatories to the letter.

UNI SAA RP RK1755

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