A PROBE¬†by the Karnataka Lokayukta into the supply of food to the Integrated Child Development Services has found that Department of Women and Child Development officials in connivance with the contractor, Christy Friedgram Industry, were siphoning off funds meant for the mid-day meal scheme. The revelation has come at a time when the state is witnessing close to two-three deaths every day due to malnutrition.
The mid-day meal scheme, which costs the state government Rs 600 crore per year, was meant to provide basic nutrition for children below the age of six. However, DWCD officials and CFI delivered sub-standard food after skimming off funds.
According to sources in the Lokayukta, DWCD Director Shyamala Iqbal used to receive Rs 20 lakh per month as bribe, while Deputy Director Usha Patwari and Assistant Director Muniraju used to get Rs 15 lakh per month from CFI for their tacit involvement. ‚ÄúAll department officials, right from the taluk level, would collect money every month from the CFI office in Malleswaram, Bengaluru,‚ÄĚ the sources say.
‚ÄúDuring 2010, we received an anonymous letter detailing the racket, which was duly forwarded to the Lokayukta for investigation,‚ÄĚ says Nina Nayak, chairperson of the Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KSCPCR). She submitted a report to the government following complaints by gram panchayats about the sub-standard food supplied by CFI. ‚ÄúWe received letters from parents who complained of their children falling sick after consuming the food,‚ÄĚ she says.
The ICDS is the largest programme for promotion of maternal and child health and nutrition not only in India but the whole world. The scheme was launched in 1975 in pursuance of the National Policy for Children. The beneficiaries are children below six years, pregnant and lactating women and women in the age group of 15-44 years. In Karnataka, there are around 54,260 anganwadis, with 33 lakh children entitled to free mid-day meals.
Earlier, the government-owned Karnataka State Agro Corn Products Ltd (KSACPL), which used to manufacture and supply energy foods to anganwadis since 1973, provided mid-day meals. ‚ÄúThe KSACPL started making losses in 2001, after the DWCD handed over 50 percent of the energy food supply contract to CFI,‚ÄĚ says H Subbaiah, the last managing director of the company. Due to insurmountable losses, the company was shut down last month.
Concerned over reports of fraud and tardy implementation of the ICDS scheme, the Supreme Court had issued a directive in October 2004 prohibiting the use of contractors in the supply of mid-day meals under the scheme.
‚ÄúThis is when CFI hit upon a novel plan to counter it,‚ÄĚ says a middle-level DWCD official, who was shunted out later. ‚ÄúCFI entered into a five-year contract in 2007 with a budget of Rs 600 crore for building the capacities of self-help groups.‚ÄĚ The company then set up the Mahila Supplementary Nutrition Production and Training Centres (MSNPTCs) in 139 of the 176 taluks.
An employee working in one of the MSNPTCs later wrote to the KSCPCR explaining the way these centres were being run. A copy of the letter, which is with TEHELKA, throws light on the way the DWCD looked the other way when CFI went about doing its business.
In Raichur district, 2,689 kids died due to acute malnutrition in April-August 2011, says official data
According to the letter, ‚ÄúMany of the training centres were not producing the required quantity of energy food. They were procuring ready-to-eat meals directly from Tamil Nadu and dumping it in the training centres. The food was rejected by the locals and was used as fodder for the cattle. Indents given for fulfilling orders were manipulated and illiterate women were hired for the job (according to the agreement, they had to pay a small part of the profit to these women).‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúCFI had set up a parallel channel of giving bribes,‚ÄĚ say sources in the Lokayukta. ‚ÄúRight from the taluk level, child development project officers would receive around 1 percent of the amount cleared.‚ÄĚ
This year, on 10 March, Lokayukta officials raided Shyamala Iqbal‚Äôs house and found 900 grams of gold, diamonds worth Rs 4 lakh, bank deposits worth Rs 65 lakh and a Toyota Innova. They also found documents showing ownership of a commercial complex at Church Street, Bengaluru, a house in HAL 3rd Stage worth Rs 60 lakh and a site in Arkavathy Layout, also in Bengaluru. Shyamala Iqbal did not respond to queries by TEHELKA.