Wednesday, June 19, 2013

State orders clean-up after rap in food scam

Women’s Groups Allotted Contracts In Meal Scheme
Mumbai: Maharashtra government has entrusted the task of providing food to poor children and their mothers under the integrated child development scheme (ICDS) to women’s self-help groups at the tehsil level after a apex court-appointed panel made critical observations.

“In view of the commission’s stringent observations, we have asked tehsil-level selfhelp women’s groups to take up the job of providing food to poor children and their mothers. Contracts have been given in a large number of tehsils,” a senior official in the women and children development department told TOI on Tuesday. The bureaucrat said a high-level committee headed by the district collector has been set up in each district to monitor allotment of contracts and ensure that ICDS—the Centre’s flagship plan—is implemented in letter and spirit.

The apex court’s commissioner had appointed Biraj Patnaik to submit a status report on the implementation of take-home ration (THR) or supplementary nutrition programme for poor children, particularly in the tribal areas, in response to a PIL.

Earlier, the apex court had asked all the state governments that THR supply be done by local groups, gram panchayats, women’s selfhelp groups and mahila mandals. However,the court found that the specific guidelines had been violated.

In his report, Patnaik observed that there were blatant violations of the Supreme Court’s directives. “My investigation points to a close nexus between politicians, contractors and bureaucrats that has allowed for the active subversion of the letter and spirit of the apex court orders. As the documentation shows, this could not have been possible without complicity at the highest levels of governance in the state,” Patnaik stated in his 22-page report.

It was found that while a Rs 500-crore contract for supply of rations was awarded to three institutions, none of them had any production capacity of their own. “It was all in the family. All the three firms were controlled by five different families and selfhelp groups, mahila mandals or village communities were not visible at all,” the official said. The bureaucrat said in view of the SC’s observations and the Patnaik report findings, it was decided not to extend the contract of the three firms.

On November 5, 2012, when chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was apprised of Patnaik’s report, he had ordered a high-level inquiry over allotment of the Rs 500-crore contract. “We will conduct the probe within a month,” Chavan had told the media. According to reports, an internal probe by the women and child development department had revealed that there were violations of the apex court guidelines. It recommended to the government to terminate the contract with immediate effect. “The report was submitted, but we don’t know its status,” the bureaucrat said.
Prafulla Marpakwar TNN

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