The women and child development (WCD) department has started a probe into the supply of Take-Home Rations (THR) in Nandurbar district.
Minister Yashomati Thakur has stressed upon an inquiry by Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) and Economic Offences Wing (EOW) into alleged collusion between local officials and contractor for APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Aahar Yojana, meant for tribal children and women. The department has also taken strong exception to the clean chit to Nandurbar officials by the state tribal and rural development department.
The scheme is funded by the tribal department to provide hot cooked meals to children aged six months to three years, and lactating and pregnant women in tribal areas. Since cooking in anganwadis was not possible during the Covid-19 lockdown, on March 31, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), a department under the WCD that provides nutrition to children aged below six, issued directions to either provide locally purchased THR like dal, wheat, rice and peanuts to beneficiaries or directly transfer funds to their bank accounts.
However, through March, April and May, at least four districts — Nandurbar, Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar — flouted norms of local purchase by procuring ration from a single vendor, Mahavir Trade Links, based out of Pune. A WCD official said the vendor provided just dry fruits, mostly almonds and cashew nuts, in several parts of Nandurbar instead of wheat, rice, dal and peanuts as mandated. In some remote parts of Nandurbar, such as Dhadgaon, the ration reached after two months in May, the official added.
Need to streamline schemes
The entire issue has brought forth the need to streamline programmes under one department. While the tribal department funds APJ Abdul Kalam Amrut Aahar Yojana, it is implemented by the WCD department. Lack of accountability with regard to the scheme has also created loopholes in the system.
The delay in ration drew the attention of the ICDS, which directed the zilla parishad (ZP) to inquire in two letters dated July 12 and 20. The tribal department also ordered a separate probe. Nandurbar has one of the highest rates of malnourishment in Maharashtra. In July, a survey found that 15 per cent children were undernourished.
The committees appointed by the tribal department also pointed out that a delay of ration during lockdown has led to loss of nutrition and dietary value in children. Both committees, however, did not find any violation in the procedure. Anup Kumar Yadav, tribal secretary, said, “We halted payments to the contractor when the allegations were raised, but after the report found there was only delay in supply and nothing more we lifted all charges.”
The WCD department has expressed dissatisfaction over both inquiries. In a letter to the rural development department dated November 4, the WCD department stated that the ZP inquiry was incomplete. It questioned why so many anganwadis had placed their order with one vendor. The ZP observed that due to lockdown, local vendors were shut and police checking made movement difficult. But the WCD department has observed that police were allowing movement for essential services. It has also questioned distribution of dry fruits instead of wheat, rice and dal.
“We have noted that at least 291 anganwadis were able to locally purchase Take-Home Ration in Nandurbar. If they could, why not others? If purchasing ration locally was so difficult, a direct benefit transfer option was also open,” a WCD official said. The department directed ICDS to conduct an independent probe into the matter. It has demanded inquiry against IAS officer Varsha Phadol, was the deputy chief officer in Nandurbar during the pandemic.
When contacted, Phadol said, “The funds for Amrut Aahar Yojana were transferred to anganwadis. I had no role with the funds.”
Officials said they were planning to investigate the role of their own department in Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar as well.
Rural development department secretary Rajesh Verma said he did not know about the letter dated November 4 and would have to look into the matter.