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Children's nutrition not spared from web of corruption

New Delhi It was after NDTV's investigative story in June this year that Maharashtra's Governor first ordered an inquiry into allegations that food meant for children in Maharashtra, under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), was being siphoned off and in some cases, even sold off, as chicken feed.

Now more details are emerging on the nexus between contractors and the self-help groups that are supposed to ensure that the food reaches the children. A Supreme Court panel report that probed the 'take home ration' or THR supply in Maharashtra says the system is fraught with irregularities.

Following the EoI or Expression of Interest in 2009, the Maharashtra government appointed three mahila mandals the contract for the supply of THR in the state.

These were:

  • Venkateshwara Mahila Audyogic Udpadan Sahakari Sanstha Limited, at Latur
  • Mahalaxmi Mahila Grihaudyog and Balvikas Buddheshisya Audyogic Sahakari Sanstha
  • Maharashtra Mahila Sahakari Grahaudyog Sanstha Limited, at Dhule

None of these three women's co-operatives have their own production units and for the production of 'take home ration', they in turn leased units from private firms. What's more, in almost all of these units, the owners were family members of those who were in the women's co-operatives holding crucial financial responsibilities and financial control.

VENKATESHWARA MAHILA AUDYOGIC UDPADAN SAHAKARI SANSTHA LIMITED

Venkateshwara Mahila Sanstha, has contracted supply of THR to two companies, namely Paras Foods and Swapnil Agro. Sub-committees have been formed within the mahila sanstha to monitor these companies. All dealings with Paras Foods is done by Sapana Ujwal Pagariya, Neeta Ulhas Pagariya and Sujata umesh Pagariya. Neeta Pagariya's husband Ulhas is the proprietor of Paras foods. Ujwal and Umesh are his brothers. And all six members are listed in the voters' list of Nagpur under the same residential address.

Swati Satishrao Munde, Vanmala Satishrao Munde and Sumalbal Shesherao Munde are part of the second sub-committee of Venkateshwara Mahila Sanstha that deals with Swapnil Agro Private Limited, Udgir, Latur. The Managing Director of Swapnil Agro is Satishrao Munde, who is the husband of Vanmala and father of Swati Munde.

MAHALAXMI MAHILA SANSTHA

Similar modus operandi exists in Mahalaxmi Mahila Sanstha as well. This Sanstha has contracted THR production to three companies and one co-operative society viz. Indo Allied Protein foods Limited, Sai food Products, Sai food products Industrial Co-operative Society Limited and Kota Dal Mill.

Anjali Rajan Jadhav, Vidya Pramodrao Jadhav and Rashmi Jayantrao Jadhav are part of one sub-committee that handle Indo Allied Protein Foods. Rajan Shankar Jadhav, husband of Anjali Jadhav is the Director of this firm. Rashmi and Vidya Jadhav are Rajan Jadhav's sisters-in-law.

Sandhya Dixit, Anuradha Auradkar and Sanjay Auradkar are part of a sub-committee that deals with Sai food Products and Sai food products Industrial Co-operative Society Limited. Sanjay Auradkar is the proprietor of Sai food Products and shockingly, also the manager of Mahalaxmi Mahila Sanstha. Chairman of Sai food products Industrial Co-operative Society Limited is Pradip Auradkar, husband of Aruna and father of Sanjay Auradkar.

MAHARASHTRA MAHILA SAHAKARI GRAHAUDYOG SANSTHA LIMITED

Sagar foods has been given the contract for THR. Asha S Agarwal, Vilas Patil, Shrikant Agarwal, Shraddha Agarwal, Rama Vinod Agarwal, Hemlata Agarwal are responsible from the Mahila Sanstha to deal with the company. One of the four partners in Sagar foods is Prabhudayal Sagarmal Agarwal, father-in-law of Rama V Agarwal.

What also appears to be a strange case of coincidence is that, every time these mahila sansthas were to undergo lab tests for quality checks on the 'take home ration', they all approached the same lab. Yet, when a random sample was taken of the THR, and examined by the department of Women and Child Development, the report showed that "the amount of proteins and calories were not present in the sufficient quantity in the THR food supplied."

In all these cases, the government of Maharashtra and banks have given legitimacy to these sub-committees by signing contracts directly with these sub-committees.

It was during his Independence Day speech in August this year that Dr. Manmohan Singh talked about the need to rid the country of malnutrition. In his speech he also said, "In the last eight years, the number of mothers and children benefitting from the ICDS has doubled. The process of making the ICDS more effective is in its last stages and will be completed in the next one or two months."

But scathing reports like these once again put the spotlight on how much more needs to be done.
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