Exclusive - Continental Milkose, a heavily guarded private contractor of Meghalaya’s Social Welfare Dept.

In a recent alleged scam that surfaced, Assam Police raided the godown of one Maruti Quality Products Pvt Ltd (MQPPL) and the police found that the rice, lifted from Food Corporation of India (FCI) Shillong Division, was repacked by MQPPL into East Sunrise brand, which is a part of Continental Milkose India Ltd (CML) and supplied to Assam Rifles.


By Daiaphira Kharsati


Bethelda Warjri* caters to her routine duties in one of the Anganvadis of Shillong, where she is entrusted with an important responsibility – that of handing out nutritious food to the beneficiaries who were identified under the landmark National Food Security Act, 2013.

However, every time she receives the requisite food, she struggles to ensure that the food is consumed by the beneficiaries. “The food is absolutely tasteless and not what is actually promised. Beneficiaries, involving mothers and children from families of weak socio-economic backgrounds, deserve the nutrition promised by the law. We have been informed that due to the inedible nature of the food, many beneficiaries feed it to the pigs,” she says.

The concern of workers like Bethelda is a result of a historically silent and unspoken department in the media, the Social Welfare Department of Meghalaya.

In a recent alleged scam that surfaced, Assam Police raided the godown of one Maruti Quality Products Pvt Ltd (MQPPL) and the police found that the rice, lifted from Food Corporation of India (FCI) Shillong Division, was repacked by MQPPL into East Sunrise brand, which is a part of Continental Milkose India Ltd (CML) and supplied to Assam Rifles.

The FCI rice was lifted by the CML to be taken to Noida for fortification. Surprisingly, the rice packets ended up in Guwahati.

CML is an important player here. Owned by one Deepak Agarwal, it is a private supplier which, according to officials of the Social Welfare Department, has been working on contracts with the department for over 20 years and has been supplying fortified foods to Anganvadis, where workers like Bethelda render services. 

But when the scam was spoken about to Meghalaya’s Minister of Social Welfare, Kyrmen Shylla, he said that the alleged scam was not the responsibility of the department but of the supplier. However, ever since making this statement, Shylla has not made any public appearances nor responded to any request for comment.

Shylla only circulated a press release late Thursday, stating that “the State Government is also contemplating to encourage SHGs (self help groups) as manufacturers in the procurement and supply of Take-Home-Ration subject to their fulfillment of the eligibility criteria.”

No details were mentioned to understand when the process could be over or why the SHGs were not encouraged to manufacture in the first place, even when the law created a provision for it.

Shylla, a minister of Meghalaya’s United Democratic Party (UDP) – an ally of the current government, has also faced the heat with Congress parliamentarian Vincent Pala questioning his party’s silent stance on the entire issue.

The claim of Shylla, divesting responsibility on the suppliers, is however not very simplistic. Various anomalies involving CML have surfaced in the past as well.

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 CML.

The report further stated that due to a request by the DSW to the purchase board on the procurement of milk powder, CML received an additional profit of Rs. 88.73 lakh, despite CML supplying the powder at a lower rate.

Anomalies related to CML 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.”

In a 2012 sampling of fortified foods and child nutrition in Meghalaya, where the major supplier for the same was CML, tests were conducted by the National Institute of Nutrition. The tests revealed that the overall macronutrient composition of calories and proteins was over 20 per cent less in the milk formula being provided in Meghalaya to infants.

Similarly, Vitamin A was below detectable limits in the food supplied in Meghalaya.

In the recent alleged scam however, the social welfare department is still playing wait-and-watch despite a historically bad track record of CML.

When asked if the department will take the same company to supply the fortified food despite the seizure of Meghalaya rice in Guwahati, the Director of Social Welfare D.D. Shira said, “(For) that we have to wait for the report.”

Social activist Angela Rangad has been vehement in her stance against the social welfare department and the historical wrongs which have happened due to the contracts being received by CML.

“States such as Odisha, Kerala, Chattisgarh that have decentralized this programme by engaging women's groups and communities and have seen great success with meaningful outcomes from this programme, as pointed out by the Supreme Court, Niti Ayog, NHRC etc,” Rangad said.

“The question is, why should (the contract) be garnered by the tainted company Continental Milkose. The intention of the Integrated Child Development Scheme is to provide nutritious food and local groups can meet this by involving local producers, fruit and vegetable farmers, poultry farmers and others,” she added.

In the National Food Security Act (NFSA) judgement of the Supreme Court, it was made clear that contractors should not be used for supplying nutritious food to Anganvadis and preferably village communities, self-help groups and Mahila Mandals should be used for buying of grains and preparation of meals.

However, state programme officer of ICDS, HR Pyrtuh stated quite the contrary citing a central government order.

“As per Supreme Court order and Ministry of Women and Child Development order, we have to give (contracts) to competent entities, irrespective of whether they are self-help groups, mahila mandals or manufacturers,” she said.

On the same, activist Rangad said that the usage of the central government order was a purposeful misinterpretation of law.

“This is an outright lie as the NFSA 2013 does not insist on fortified food but on nutritious food and the Supreme Court pointed out that the idea of fortification is often used to subvert the scheme and provide a backdoor entry to manufacturers and contractors, who eye the central government’s 5000 crore yearly budget for this programme,” she said.

*name changed on request

ALSO READ: Seizure of rice: No question of scam as Meghalaya already received its quota, clarifies CM 

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