Food for malnourished children is not grub, but a medicine which should be served not in a plate, but in a sachet as a nutritious meal, Union Minister of Women and Child Development (WCD) Maneka Gandhi said today. She was speaking at the launch World Hunger Day organised by The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a non-profit organisation
which delivers fresh cooked meals to around 1.6 million children everyday under the mid-day meal scheme. The minister said that the focus of all stakeholders should not be on just feeding the children, but providing a
nutritious meal. Maneka said that she had received a suggestion from Uttarakhand whereby severely malnourished children had been fed sachets containing crushed peanuts, millets and sugar along with other ingredients comprising around 600-1000 calories and nutrients and in three months, it had shown results. “I have tried repeatedly to talk to the state governments to replicate this, but haven’t succeeded so far.
This food will not be food, but a medicine,” said the minister. Stating that she wants the contents of the sachets – like
salt and pepper sachets available in the market – to be water soluble and fed to children between the ages of 0-2 years and pregnant and lactating mothers. “These sachets should not be sent to any community centre or anganwadis. A packet of 30 such sachets should be sent directly to the families who can consume them with say fortified biscuits. There should be a ‘not for sale’ signage on the sachet to ensure its illegal sale. In this way we can monitor its consumption and also its effects,” said Gandhi. Rights activists, however, say that the ministry’s move
to push for packaged food is in clear violation of successive Supreme Court orders since 2004 where it has advocated the use of self-help groups and village communities to provide hot, cooked meals to children under six.
Food rights activists fear that the minister’s proposal to provide packaged food would only benefit private players.
“This is a disgusting approach. You cannot medicalise malnourishment by converting or treating food as a medicine.
This will leave the entire rural market open for global conglomerates who will see this as a huge market for baby
food,” said Kavita Srivastava, a convener of the Right to food campaign. Vandana Prasad, a right to food activist said that the SC had made it clear that it was the local community that should be the government’s partners in delivering food under the integrated child protection scheme and not the private players. “The food is supposed to be freshly cooked by village communities, self-help groups and mahila mandals,” she said.