State follows policy of ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’

Faux pas or worse,the Gujarat government had taken away over 50,000 tonnes of wheat meant as ration for 21.20 lakh below poverty line (BPL) families holding Antyodaya Anna Yojana cards and given them to private flour mills in the last two years.

Written by Amrita Didyala | Ahmedabad | Published:March 26, 2009 11:58 pm

Takes away 50,000 tonnes of wheat meant for 21 lakh BPL families and gives them to private flour mills

Faux pas or worse,the Gujarat government had taken away over 50,000 tonnes of wheat meant as ration for 21.20 lakh below poverty line (BPL) families holding Antyodaya Anna Yojana cards and given them to private flour mills in the last two years. This is still going on.

The exercise began in March 2007 when the state civil supplies department began distributing fortified wheat flour through the Public Distribution System (PDS). What prompted the government,or its bureaucrats,to go for this idea was no major scientific data perused on its benefits,but a study the department claims to have done on 20 athletes under the Sports Authority of Gujarat.

The study supposedly showed a 2-gm-per cent haemoglobin rise within three months in sportspersons who consumed fortified flour,and that was taken as proof enough to make the supply of fortified atta,and not wheat,mandatory through the PDS. At least,this was what the Gujarat government told the High Court later,in an affidavit. The affidavit,however,did not mention that there was a Supreme Court directive in force,in the UP Millers’ Association case,that PDS beneficiaries should be given the choice of taking either wheat or atta.

The SC directive was based on a report that the country’s premier institution in that field,the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN),had submitted on fortifying atta,which clearly negated any significant benefit. In fact,the NIN report had said quite the opposite.

The NIN report read: “Providing iron fortified atta might add to the iron load leading to toxicity with this chemical. Whole-wheat atta has high levels of naturally occurring phytates,which interfere with the absorption of iron. Fortification will result in less than 2 per cent of iron being absorbed. While national level surveys point to massive deficiency of macro and micronutrients,it is difficult to imagine that one cereal like atta can serve as a vehicle for fortification of all these nutrients.”

The Supreme Court had ordered on November 28,2001 and January 10,2008 to provide 35 kg food grains — 19 kg wheat flour and 16 kg rice — to the poorest of the poor under the Antyodaya Scheme. But the Gujarat government in its resolution dated March 24,2007,decided to provide 16 kg rice and 16.7 kg wheat fortified flour.

That was not all. The state government apparently did not want to spend its money on this fortifying exercise,so it decided to levy 2.3 kg of wheat from the weekly 19 kg that the SC had ordered to be provided to each BPL family every week. The government has palmed off over 50,000 tonnes taken so far from BPL families to private millers as cost of fortification.

Incredibly,the Gujarat government’s affidavit in the HC,besides keeping mum on the NIN findings,also indicated that the only thing that it had to base its atta fortification decision affecting at least over two million BPL families was the study that it did on 20 athletes. “With these encouraging results (of the study),trail of fortified flour with 9 micronutrients was started under the Integrated Child Development Scheme of the Government of Gujarat. The study conducted in Daskroi block of Ahmedabad district by the district health officer showed very encouraging results after which the scheme was extended to the entire state,” said the NIN report.

When contacted,the state Principal Secretary (Food and Civil Supplies) Rajesh Kishore refused to comment. “I have not seen the NIN report so far and would not like to respond before I do,because this (fortification) is at the heart of our scheme,” he said.

Ann Suraksha Adhikar Abhiyan,an NGO,has filed a petition in the High Court challenging the state government’s stand. “This report as well as the central vigilance commissioner’s letter to the SC in this regard has been annexed to the documents filed. The principal secretary is expected to have seen the report,” said Nadeem Nikhat,a functionary of the NGO.

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