Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Only a few days back 13 girl students of a Government school in Ladoka (Lam) of Nowshera sub division in Rajouri fell ill after allegedly consuming sub-standard biscuits. The matter was reported by Daily Excelsior on August 10th. As per the newspaper report a girl student whose mother is an Anganwadi worker in Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) , had brought some old biscuit packets to school. She consumed the biscuits and offering the same to her classmates. The girls after consuming these”sub standard” biscuits started vomiting and complained of severe stomach ache. The students had to be hospitalized at NowshehraSub District Hospital (SDH). According to reports the students are now out of danger.
Supply of misbranded, substandard and spurious biscuits, spices like haldi (turmeric) and other nutritional items to Anganwadi centers has been almost a regular affair of Integrated Child Development Services / Scheme (ICDS). Inspite of the fact that many cases have been registered against some of the suppliers and companies in J&K, under Food Safety & Standard Act, the officials at the helm of affairs have not blacklisted them and instead they have been given orders for supplying the spurious nutritional items to Anganwadi centers across state. I have been following this unholy practice from last few months. In-fact some local dailies of Srinagar / Jammu have filed few news reports as well. I wrote an article on the issue some time back, and brought the matter into notice of authorities but till date no action has been initiated.
Illegal Procurement by ICDS
For supplying nutritional items to Anganwadi centers across J&K State (except Ladakh) the Mission Director Integrated Child Development Services / Scheme (ICDS) invited tenders on 09-04-2018 for the year 2018-19. In Ladakh the procurement is done by local Hill Council. ICDS Mission Director issued a corrigendum to the tender notice vide NIT No : 02 of 2018 Dated 9.04.2018 wherein he relaxed condition of depositing 30 percent of the annual turnover of the bidder and restricted it to food items only. The conditions prescribed in the tender documents by Mission Director ICDS J&K have not been prescribed as per the guidelines of Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) for purchase and procurement. CVC in past had also noticed various malpractices in procurement process and to address the same CVC prescribed detailed guidelines. ICDS being a centrally sponsored scheme with 90 percent funding by Govt of India, theseguidelines are directly applicable to ICDS J&K Mission as well. The salient features of CVC guidelines are : Selecting a registered firm with proper trademark , Making purchase through State Level Purchase Committee (SLPC) and depositing 30 percent turnover by the bidder. All these things are questionable in the ongoing procurement process in J&K ?
SLPC is questionable ?
The Department of Social Welfare J&K Government which is the administrative department of ICDS through its order No : 342 SW of 2017 Dated : 27.10.2017 constituted a State Level Purchase Committee (SLPC) for procurement of nutritional / non nutritional items. This committee was directed to operate for a period of 6 months or till Village Level Councils (VLCs) become operational or whichever is earlier. Village Level Councils (VLCs) are only restricted to official papers and nobody knows about their existence in J&K . This makes it clear that Government order of reconstituting the state level purchase committee was to remain in force from 27th October 2017 to 26th April 2018 .Through aforementioned Government order among other officials, representatives from J&K Food Safety Department and J&K Sales Tax Department were made the members of the purchase committee. The Mission Director ICDS to the reasons best known to him got the Government order modified through another Government order No : 133 SW of 2018 Dated : 7.04.2018 wherein representatives of Food Safety and Sales Tax departments were deleted from the State Level Purchase Committee. Without the clearance of Food Safety Officer at least how can nutritional or food items be purchased?Tenders were again invited for purchase of food items on 9.04.2018 (exactly 2 days from the date of deletion of food safety and sales tax department officers from the purchase committee ). This was done only to pave way for procurement of substandard nutritional items.
Supreme Court ruling on Procurement
Implementation of the ICDS scheme has been marred by many controversies across the country. Several litigations were filed in different high courts and Supreme Court of India as well .Hon’bleSupreme Court in a bunch of appeals and Public Interest Litigations (PILs) passed few interim orders / directions from time to time. Ministry of Women and Child Development on its website has uploaded all these details that includes supreme court orders , judgments and directions to all the states. Pertinent to mention that Hon’ble Supreme Court in its interim order Dated April 22nd 2009 laid down the schedule of calories and item-wise price thereof. The schedule has been revised by Govt of India from time to time. Further the distribution of food items under ICDS had to be supplied and procured through Mahila Mandals , Women Self Help Groups (SSGs) so as to ensure elimination of the contractor system and to get rid of corruption and malpractice. Inspite of these directions, the Jammu & Kashmir Government has not adopted these guidelines and purchases are made directly by the Mission Directorate for the whole state. Even if Government could not find women SHGs which in-fact are operating in 50 percent of our Rural Development Department blocks under project UMEED of State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) , the Anganwadi centers could have been asked to make purchases at village or mohalla level only . But in order to get cuts and commissions from the contractors, ICDS Mission Directorate is not ready to decentralize this scheme.
As reported by some local newspapers the fresh purchases made by ICDS Mission Directorate needs to be thoroughly probed. Until this probe is completed supply of nutritional items to Programme Officers of ICDS should be stopped. An unregistered biscuit company which faces cases under Food Safety laws in Ganderbal and Kathua has been given the fresh supply order. The company is supplying locally made biscuits @ Rs 74 / Kg while as biscuits from reputed brands only cost Rs 57 /Kg. The Nutri supplied to Anganwadi centers is always misbranded and adulterated. The same is purchased by ICDS @ Rs 68 / Kg while as branded product only cost Rs 45 / Kg. Again the same company is under scanner aftermath of Nowshehra school incident. If for any reason purchase and supply of nutritional items in a wholesale manner is not possible , the cost of the nutritional items should be credited into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries as per the specified rates of Supreme Court of India. Last year no nutritional items were supplied to Anganwadi centers across J&K , but on the other hand the amount was also not credited into the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. Why it was not done ? This matter also needs to be investigated. As I have been saying in my previous columns as well, let all the Anganwadi centers be provided with CCTV cameras , this will ensure attendance of the beneficiaries and to keep checks and balances at these centers. Lastly let us empower our Women Self Help Groups (SHGs) especially those working under UMEED project of State Rural Livelihood Mission (SRLM) , let these SHGs be involved on pilot basis in some districts and if the results are positive why not involve them across state to get rid of contractor system once for all.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat