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 more inexcusable.
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
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