Exclusive - ‘Tasteless and fed to pigs’: Meghalaya beneficiaries distressed with Social Welfare Dept’s Anganwadi food
By Daiaphira Kharsati and Ferdinand Rani
In a small makeshift storage facility of the Anganwadi centre in the Jaiaw Langsning area of Shillong, a musty smell is emitted from the room full of almost a hundred packets of Nutri Gold – a ready-to-eat fortified cereal produced by Meghalaya’s Social Welfare Department contractor, Continental Milkose, for the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
The reason? Refusal of children to eat them due to tastelessness and an unpleasant smell emitted from the food item. The consequence? Fortified food items of every batch get piled up till the items go past their expiry dates.
The ICDS is Government of India’s flagship programme aimed at providing basic education, health, and nutrition services for early childhood development. It also looks to improve nutritional outcomes for lactating mothers.
However, in Meghalaya, the Social Welfare Department has come under the scanner numerous times for its questionable quality of food supply to the Anganwadi centres, where beneficiaries are mostly from poorer socio-economic backgrounds.
“We are getting the food from ICDS but hundreds of packets of fortified food are lying unused. Nothing has been done about it,” M. Blah, president of Jaiaw Langsning women’s organisation, told The Northeast Today (TNT), highlighting that Nutri Gold in particular is one of the most wasted fortified food items.
Complaints of tastelessness and the inedible nature of food have been taken up by local administration heads on being urged by Anganwadi Workers. However, as per a member of the Riat Laban area local administration who refused to be named, the social welfare department has not addressed any complaints so far.
Complaints by the local administration to return the food packets and change the food items have also gone unaddressed.
“We are forced to retain these fortified food packets sometimes because neither the people nor the department wants to take them. Once they send the stock we have to deliver them and we can’t let it get piled up. Else, it will be a problem for us here,” an Anganwadi worker in the Laban area told The Northeast Today, highlighting that there are no proper storage facilities as well.
The worker also said that the Social Welfare Department has taken no initiative to figure out if the food is reaching the beneficiaries or not. Department officials only ensure the supply of food and abstain from any other duties apart from that.
On the other hand, beneficiaries revealed that some food items which were suitable for consumption, such as soya chunks and dal, have reduced in supply over time. Some of the remaining food items are still taken by the beneficiaries from the Anganvadis, but the tastelessness of the food prevents them from consuming it.
“These foods are given to the pigs. In this time of pandemic, the government should give rice, sugar, vegetables and salt instead,” a beneficiary said.
Last week, Angela Rangad, member of civil society organisation Thma U Rangli Juki (TUR), echoed similar views while speaking to the media, adding that a 2012 study by the National Institute of Nutrition showed that fortified food items supplied to Anganvadis by Continental Milkose did not meet the required standards of nutritional content.
With knocks on the doors of the Social Welfare Department falling on deaf ears, some Anganwadi workers have now taken it upon themselves to ensure that supplies suitable for consumption can be delivered to the beneficiaries in times of the pandemic.
Cresentia Syiemlieh, an Anganwadi worker from Mawlai Mawiong Rim I area, and P. Lynshiang from Mawlai Mawiong II area, as well as other Anganwadi workers now visit the beneficiaries door-to-door to deliver items such as rice, atta, suji, soya chunks, wheat flour and chana.
The food that is distributed is sometimes cooked by the Anganwadi workers themselves or it is given in food packets. Lyngshiang said that the only benefits poor people get are from such kinds of items under the ICDS, while other fortified items are also getting wasted on the contrary due to the lockdown.
However, even with such difficulties on the line, S. Lyngdoh Nongpyiur, who is also the chairman of the Village Level Coordination Committee of ICDS and the headman of Mawiongrim, said that beneficiaries happily accept food such as rice, atta and suji, as these have good nutritional content and are not tasteless like the Continental Milkose food.
With such discrepancies in the ICDS, The Northeast Today tried reaching out to officials from the Social Welfare Department. However, they were not available for comments.
Continental Milkose, which is the major supplier of all fortified foods across Meghalaya, is a Noida-based private contractor, supposedly receiving contracts from the Social Welfare Department for the past 20 years as per officials.
In a 2011 report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), it was highlighted that various ‘non-conventional items’ under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) were procured by the Directorate of Social Welfare (DSW) without inviting tenders. One of the major suppliers here was Continental Milkose.
The report further stated that due to a request by the DSW to the purchase board on the procurement of milk powder, Continental Milkose received an additional profit of Rs. 88.73 lakh, despite supplying the powder at a lower rate.
Anomalies related to Continental Milkose and the Social Welfare Department of Meghalaya were also quoted in a Supreme Court judgement of Vaishnorani Mahila Bachat Gat vs State Of Maharashtra where the court noted:
“A contractor based out of Noida, Continental Milkose (India) Ltd. provides the supplementary nutrition for the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) in Meghalaya. The contract continues despite adverse CAG reports on the provision of SNP in Meghalaya.”
(Edited by Anirban Paul)
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