The Women and Child Development Department has initiated the process for an inquiry into procurement procedures and delay in distribution of ration to women and children of Nandurbar during the Covid-19 pandemic after complaints from residents of remote areas in the district.
The rations, under the APJ Abdul Kalam Yojana, reached the intended beneficiaries, tribal women and children, in May, two months after the lockdown began in the areas of Dhadgaon, Akkalkuan, and Taloda. The local purchase order for the rations had been given to a Pune-based contractor.
In a letter to WCD on August 11, Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) states: “It is not clear why only one contractor was awarded contract.” The ICDS has proposed an inquiry against Varsha Phadol, deputy CO, Nandurbar, who was holding additional charge for child development programme officer (CDPO), when the orders were placed.
“We received complaints of delay in ration. Based on that we have proposed to tribal department to initiate inquiry since they fund the scheme in Nandurbar,” said Indra Mallo, who heads the ICDS.
Mallo said Phadol works with rural department and was holding charge as CDPO when orders were placed on behalf of several anganwadis in district.
The Abdul Kalam Yojana provides free meals to pregnant, lactating women and children aged less than six to improve their nutrition content. On March 31, following a nationwide lockdown, the ICDS asked all districts to either appoint self-help groups to cook meals, procure ration locally or transfer money for ration directly in beneficiary’s account. In Nandurbar, however, purchase orders of most anganwadis were placed with Pune headquartered Mahavir Trade Link instead of local procurement. By the time the ration was supplied, two months had passed.
“In remote areas of Dhadgaon and Akkalkuan, ration reached after two and half months. How will we prevent malnutrition if tribal children don’t get benefited by government scheme for two months,” said Latika Rajput, from Narmada Bachao Andolan. She added that in Kuntamodi village ration reached by June first week.
Nandurbar, a northern district of Maharashtra, has 2,239 anganwadis. The district has been allotted Rs 4,500 crore for 2020-21 for APJ Abdul Kalam Yojana. There are 24,858 pregnant and lactating women and 1.32 lakh children who are beneficiaries of this scheme. The tribal department pays Rs 35 per woman and Rs 6 per child per day for the ration.
Mallo said a state level committee has been set up to look into the entire procurement procedure of Nandurbar during the pandemic. Vasumana Pant, part of the three-member committee, told The Indian Express, “We have asked for 15 days’ time to submit our report. Inquiry is ongoing in the matter.”
In July following complaints of delay in ration supply, ICDS had written to Nandurbar district officials for an explanation. On August 10, Nandurbar CO Vinay Gauda responded to ICDS stating a four member committee has been set up to look into irregularities. A district official said instead of allowing anganwadis to locally buy ration, orders were placed on behalf of majority of anganwadis with a single supplier.
While areas like Shahada, Nandurbar city and Navapur got supply after delay of 15-30 days, hilly hamlets of Dhadgaon, Akkalkuan and parts of Taloda faced two months delay. Nandurbar has highest malnutrition numbers in Maharashtra, its tribal population depends on anganwadis to feed their children. Anganwadis have shut down ever since lockdown began in March.
Since July WCD has begun a massive exercise to resume survey of children aged less than six for malnourishment. In last four months no survey has been conducted to assess whether Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent disruption in free meals has affected malnutrition rate in children.