The National Council on Nutrition (NCN) has unanimously rejected Union Minister for Women and Child Development (WCD) ’s proposal to replace ready-to-eat food as take-home dry rations with energy-dense nutrient packets which could be mixed with food for anganwadi beneficiaries.
Direction of the Council:
- The council has also directed that pilot projects be conducted in 10 select districts on cash transfers instead of take-home rations — Ms. Gandhi has opposed the idea on the grounds that there is no guarantee that beneficiaries would use the money for food.
- The National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges, headed by Vice-Chairman of the NITI Aayog Rajiv Kumar, was constituted in January to provide policy directions to address nutritional challenges in the country and review programmes on a quarterly basis. It held its first meeting on April 18.
- According to the minutes of the meeting, “The council had received a reference from the Honourable Minister of WCD (Maneka Gandhi) with respect to administration of supplementary nutrition, i.e. its composition and delivery.”
- However, the minutes record that, “The Chairman [Nutrition Council] drew attention to the PMO’s decision in this regard and the need for continuance of the existing practice of hot cooked meals for children (3-6 years) age group and take-home rations (THR) for children (6 months-3 years) and pregnant women and lactating mothers as decided by the State governments in conformity with the National Foods Security Act, 2013, and the Supplementary Nutrition Rules, 2017. The view was endorsed unanimously by the council.”
- Significantly, Minister of Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution, who was present at the meeting, also differed with Ms. Gandhi’s proposal. According to the minutes, Mr. Paswan emphasised the importance of empowering anganwadi workers to ensure proper delivery of services as well as engaging local self-help groups to ensure “region-location based recipe and dietary diversification.”
- While the Minister is in favour of factory-made and energy-dense nutrient packets, which can be delivered by postmen, officials in her Ministry proposed food items such asdalia (broken wheat) and khichdi ( rice and lentil stew) prepared with local ingredients and sourced from self-help groups.
- Ms. Gandhi had then told this paper, “I want pre-mix made by machines and by State governments. Let us look at giving nutrients in a safe manner. These can be in powdered form and mixed with regular meals. The take-home ration given today is an ugly, non-nutritious mix. Let us stop thinking of giving food and instead think of giving nutrition.” She added that 30 such packets could be dispatched to a beneficiary for the entire month through the postal department.
- As a result of the disagreement within the Ministry, two different nutrition guidelines were prepared — one by Ms. Gandhi and another by officials in the WCD Ministry — and sent to the NITI Aayog, ahead of a meeting of the Nutrition Advisory Technical Board on January 24.
- The council also agreed to involve mothers of anganwadibeneficiaries for preparation of meals “to ensure quality and encourage jan bhagidari (public participation).”
- As part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme, anganwadi beneficiaries between the age of six months and three years as well as pregnant women and lactating mothers are entitled to take-home rations, which includes wheat, soya and sugar.