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November 06, 2012

Punish private profiteers responsible for stealing children's food

This is an AHRC statement.


In yet another shocking revelation private companies have been found to be stealing food earmarked for welfare schemes aimed at arresting malnutrition, the biggest 'national shame' according to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and 'humiliation like none other' according to President Pranab Mukherjee. The only thing that is more shocking than the revelation is the enormity of the loot from the one of the flagship project of the incumbent United Progressive Alliance government. The companies have been stealing more than 1000 Crore INR, or USD 185 Million in the state of Maharashtra alone. The report estimates total stolen amount to be close to 8000 Crore INR and finds that all this is done in direct contravention of various orders of the Supreme Court in the Civil Writ Petition 196/ 2001 (PUCL vs. UOI).

The findings are from the report of Biraj Patnaik, Principal Adviser, Commissioners to the Supreme Court and were submitted to the court with reference to SLP (Civil) No. 10654 of 2012 in the matter of Vyankateshwar Mahila Auyodhigik Sahakari Sanstha v. Purnima Upadhyay and Others listed along with Civil Writ Petition 196 of 2001 (PUCL v. UOI). The report explores into the iron grip maintained by the private profiteers in collusion with the vested interests deeply entrenched in both political and administrative hierarchy and traces the modus operandi they use to siphon off rations earmarked for the millions of starving Indians.

The report shows how private companies had usurped the supply chains of the Integrated Child Development Scheme by floating fake 'mahila mandals' (women collectives) which are in fact nothing more than fronts of their private for profit operations. The usurpation clearly contravenes the clear-cut and binding order of the Supreme Court delivered on 13th December 2006 that directed Chief Secretaries of all states and union territories 'to submit affidavits giving details of the steps that have been taken' with regard to an earlier order of the Court directing that 'contractors shall not be used for supply in Anganwadis and preferably ICDS funds shall be spent by making use of village communities, self-help groups and Mahila Mandals for buying of grains and preparation of meals.
But it does not stop at merely contravening the Court's order. It also shows that the Indian executive has not merely become absolutely inefficient and incompetent to discharge their mandate but has also capitulated to the vested interests to the extent of enforcing the Supreme Court's order. The report, further, shows that this is not merely public money but also children's lives that these profiteers are playing with. The report very clearly indicates at the collusion of the suppliers and the solitary lab they use for quality check as every single random sample of the take home ration (THR) taken to the government lab failed miserably on the nutrition standard. This was also the finding, the report notes, of an independent quality check of THR by investigation bureau of English newspaper Daily News and Analysis through a private lab yielded similar results. Needless is to say that this endangers the lives of the children consuming these rations.

Most unfortunately, the findings might be limited to the implementation of the ICDS but this is the state of affairs prevailing in the implementation of almost all other schemes. In fact, the very recommendation of the Commissioners to the Court is a telling comment on the executive and its nexus with the corrupt corporate and political players. The commissioners want an independent inquiry, under the supervision of the apex court, to be conducted for investigating the possible nexus "between politicians, bureaucrats and private contractors in the provisioning of rations to ICDS, leading to large scale corruption and leakages".

The AHRC strongly endorses the recommendation and demands for not only an impartial and time bound investigation into the issue but also stern punishment for those responsible for multiple crimes of stealing public money and putting the lives of Indian children at risk. India will have no moral right to claim itself as even a democracy; leave alone the largest democracy of the world, if it fails to stop this culture of impunity and establishes rule of law in the true sense of the word.

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