Privatisation – A Boon for the Ruling Class!

The condition of children in the Sahariya Adivasi dominated Shivpuri district of Madhya Pradesh is deteriorating day by day. As per the data provided by the Regional Medical Research Institute of Tribals in Jabalpur, 93% of Sahariya children are victims of sever malnourishment and 15% are almost on the verge of death, due to malnourishment [According to the data obtained from a study conducted on “The Status of Malnutrition in the State of Madhya Pradesh” by the Regional Research Institute on Tribals, Jabalpur.]. The average life span of a Sahariya is 45 years, which is 25% less than that of an average mans life span [Study conducted by the Regional Research Institute on Tribals, Jabalpur.]. The conclusions of this survey were even accepted by the Supreme Court. It is difficult to trace even a single child, youth or a family that is not a victim of severe malnourishment and anemia. With the onslaught of summer and the heat waves this is going to get worse. Every year many of the malnourished Sahariya children inhabiting this belt of the state, lay their lives at the alter of hunger and related diseases. The total number of malnourished children in this district according to the data provided by the government is 101344, which amounts to about 53.23 % of the total children enrolled, in the different Anganwadi Centers of the District. Of these around 4000 children belong to the III and IV grade of malnutrition and they constitute the most vulnerable group.  This is the picture one is able to paint if one leaves out all the children in the district, who are not enrolled in the Anganwadi’s. However the health and nutritional status of these children is the last priority on the list of the government.

What the State did?

In spite of this precarious situation, the distribution of nutritious food for children belonging to the age group 0-6 in the ICDS Centers in the district has come to a stand still. For the past nine months (in the year 2005-06) the Anganwadi’s of the district have not received any supply of nutritious food. The Women and Child development department has entrusted the supply of nutritious food to a firm called Madhya Pradesh State Agro Corporation Limited which is a state government of Madhya Pradesh undertaking firm and from July 2005 the firm has shown sheer irresponsibility by not supplying the required amount of nutritious food to the district. The State blames MP State Agro for the disruption in the supply and the firm on its behalf says that it is not ready to take over the responsibility of the grave situation that has arisen in the district.

If we go by the records of the Women and Child Development Ministry then, at the district level, there is a need for 299.10 metric tons of nutritious food supply every month. For the past 9 months MP State Agro has supplied only 1219.37 metric tons of Food as against the need for 2691.90 metric tons in Shivpuri District, which roughly amounts to about 45% of the required amount for the year 2005-06.

The above stated situation has arisen mainly because of the centralization and privatization of the welfare programs (we can define what the pvt-centralization make effects on the schemes like- Companies will look in to the profit not welfare) that is being promoted in the distribution and supply of the Supplementary Nutrition Food to the Anganwadi Centers, which will eventually lead to the destruction of the Self Help Groups, and community based initiatives. Ultimately the panchayats, members of the community and self-help groups will be thrown out of the whole system.

An experience establishes the fact that State is no more interested in promoting community groups. One can easily see that on the one hand community groups are usually called where there is no financial resources are available, and government calls them to get involved in the name of community participation, but on the other hand they are avoided excluded where financial resources are available and Private sector gets blessings of the state. In this regard we can analyze the case of Patalgarh village of Saheriya dominated district. This is an interior village where in February 2005, 13 children died due to Malnutrition, unavailability of Health Services and Food Insecurity. This issue was raised at the highest level of the State and Judiciary, but State never bothered about it. Formally they ordered to establish a temporary system of Supplementary Nutrition supply and closed down the file. Exact after one year of this incident 8 more children died and same process of advocacy repeated by the Civil Society groups and Mainstream media. This time an intensive fact finding process was initiated which also revealed the impact an pressure of the Private sector on the State. The tribals of Kami prepare Dalia to be supplied to AWC’s in Sheopur and Kalitalai through Self Help Groups. However they were not paid the dues (Rs 4 Lakh) for the month of March and at the same time the Women and Child Development Department paid Rs 18 lakhs to Vaishnav Food Products, a Gwalior based, and private company. This in itself shows the irregularity when   the payment to Self Help Groups was held up and those to bigger private companies was cleared. Dalia worth Rs 3-4 Lakhs is still kept at the SHG Centers waiting to be supplied.

Pro-Poor policy goes down the drain…….

In the year 2002 the government came over with the novel policy of handing over the preparation, supply and distribution of supplementary nutrition food for the Anganwadi’s to around 750 Self Help Groups in the State, which would lead to the economic empowerment of around 18,000 families.  Here one has to try and decipher the politics behind the government’s sudden preference for the constitution of SHG’s and their empowerment. One has to understand here, the fact that the policy decision of the government was pursuant to the furtherance of the World Bank’s conspiracy to promote the formation of SHG’s in the far flung areas of the state, so that they could be used as a powerful medium for the sale of products manufactured by multinationals.

The State was to promote the formation of SHG’s so that the web thus twisted could be used as a good network for the effective distribution and supply of products by the multinationals. Today the government has facilitated the formation of a muddle, of around 4 lakh SHG’s in the state, in furtherance of the World Bank objective. The state today is no more an independent authority whose ultimate motive is the welfare of the poor and the marginalized. It is blinded by the unruly and disruptive set of regulations laid down by the World Trade Organisation that leaves it a feeble and passive spectator.  The foundation stone for this initiative was laid down in paper alone and the SHG’S were initially handed over the supply. But today one finds them incapable of handling the complexities of the consumer ands market driven system, which is determined to destroy it for its profits.

We are all aware of the fact that today the very same SHG’s which have been constituted to empower women not only has nothing to do with their empowerment and political leadership but also that private limited companies like the Hindustan Lever have started distributing and marketing their products through them. Today, whether we travel into the interior Baiga tribal dominated area of Mandla- Dindori or the Bheel dominated Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh one cannot miss seeing the products of Indian and foreign multinational companies.

Our own policies – a challenge for community groups who are the targets of the Market

The very same government that set up the SHG’s for the so-called empowerment of women has today stated digging the grave for it. The Women and Child Development Department of the Government of Madhya Pradesh had invited sealed Bids from eligible manufacturers or producers for the supply of Ready to Eat Energy Food (i.e. Supplementary Nutrition Food) to various ICDS Projects in various districts of Madhya Pradesh. Page 4 of the Tender Notification lays down the minimum qualifying criteria for the bidders.

One needs to understand that nowhere in the notification one finds mention of the fact that bidders who are part of the village community, self help groups and mahila mandals would in any way be preferred. Let alone this fact, it is obvious from the terms and conditions of the notification that bids can be made only by large manufacturers and producers.  It specifies that the bidder should possess ISO 9001 or 9002 series Quality System certification and HACCP Certification for the manufacture of supplementary Nutrition. It again lays down that the average annual turn over of the firm in the bid should not be less than    Rs. 24 crores in the past three completed financial years. In these circumstances one can imagine how the SHG’s will be able to make a bid. This is the reason why all of them have shown little or no interest in making a bid, as they do not qualify for it.

Mr. Ajai Singh an ex minister and a Congress MLA, wrote a letter to the Chief Minister Mr. Shivraj Singh Chauhan stating that pursuant to the Supreme Court Orders, the procurement and distribution of the food for the Anganwadi’s had been handed over to the Self Help Groups and it has been providing employment to a large number of marginalized families especially women. But now the concerned department has taken steps to privatize and centralize it, which can be clearly understood by the tender specifications and this move is not one that is welcome. The Chief Minister is also believed to have written to the District Collectors saying that the distribution should be continued through the SHG’s.

No respect to…

Xth plan - It is interesting to note here that the Salient features of the tenth plan (2002-2007) of the Government of Madhya Pradesh clearly lay down the government’s thrust areas and priorities as well as the development strategies for weaker sections in which it had been said that the plan would continue to focus on the all round development of Women and Children. It proposes to strengthen the ongoing scheme of Self Help Groups to give socio-economic empowerment to women.

Social food security system and Knowledge - Another very interesting twist to the story lies in the fact that in promoting these ready to eat energy food the Government is also trying to destroy the traditional food habits of the people. The food supplied by the private firms like Madhya Pradesh Agro Private Limited is not the traditional food of the district concerned. We are all aware of the fact that the food habits of different groups are diverse. This is true especially with the tribals who consume a lot of food collected from the forests that are very nutritious. The food supplied by the SHG’s were in conformance with the food habits of the people of the concerned region and the food supplied by the private companies pays little heed to the traditional food habits of the people. By supplying ready to eat food and saying that it is higher in nutritious value, the State is definitely being instrumental in changing their food habits. The justification leveled against this is the fact that the traditional food supplied by the SHG’s is not nutritious enough.

A study conducted by the Department of Food Science and Technology, Jabalpur, on the nutritious value of Traditional food products like Kodo, Kutki, Ragi etc lays down that it is rich in Calcium, fibre etc and hence it could be used in the formulation of various weaning and supplementary foods. These could be consumed as ready to eat food for various categories of people viz. young children, pregnant women and old persons as it is a cheap source of good quality proteins and minerals. According to the recommendation of the study it can be commercialized for ease of preparation at household or at commercial levels. This was exactly what the SHG’s have been doing- preparing Ready to Eat Energy Food from traditional pulses and supplying them to the ICDS Centers. By bringing in privatization into this whole system the government is misleading the people by saying that their food habits are not upto the mark. In these circumstances one cannot help but say that the government is once again all set to repeat the folly committed by it in the 1960’s, when it had proclaimed that supplementary milk products like Lactogen and Nan are better than breast milk for new born babies. Today all studies have pointed to the truth that breast milk is the best for babies and the government is spending lakhs to drive back this truth into people.

Whose responsibility is it anyway?

In the above situations one can understand the conditions under which the Anganwadi’s are functioning. As it is, there is a dearth of AWC’s in the primitive tribal dominated district where hunger deaths are becoming a common phenomenon and to top it now, the supply of nutritious food to the existing centers that is perhaps the only breath of hope has also been disrupted. The department holds the firm (M P Agro) responsible for the disruption in the supply of food and the firm does not seem to be in a hurry to make things right considering the fact that 9 months is a very long time.

Conclusion

Control of the Market over the society will lead us in to another era of Imperialism and Colonialism. At this point one has to understand that justifications usually brought forward for privatization has failed to show results. Privatizing the supply has not in any way improved the level of nutritional food supply.

The Supreme Court of India has made directions to all the State governments that contractors shall not be used for the supply of nutritional food in anganwadi’s and it shall be by making use of village communities, self help groups and mahila mandals. The system of having the nutritional food supplied through these groups has many advantages. First and foremost among them is the fact that it would bring about a definite change in the economic condition of women and the system would also pave the way for the community to have closer links with the working of the ICDS scheme.

In the new digital era of globalization and cut throat Competition, the hurdles any self help group faces are entirely new, inter related, complicated and depends upon many factors.  Privatisation that became the touchstone of governance in India from the 90’s onwards has spelled doom for the small-scale cottage industries.  The self-help groups that put forward faltering steps towards growth and empowerment are hit hard by the policy decisions of the very same mechanism that claims to promote and nourish it. As per the government tender notification the Self Help Groups have to compete with the large scale manufacturers and producers using advanced technologies and large capital investments in order to procure orders to supply nutritional food. The conditions laid down for the tender quotations are definitely not encouraging for the SHGs, which only leave them with the option of not joining the bids.  One can clearly imagine here the fate of these small units, which are already in the dying stage.

Privatisation has created tremendous opportunities for some people! The educated, mobile and those with professional, managerial and technical skills are the winners. Anyways what needs to be seen and understood in light of the above situation is the fact that privatisation not only paves way for the doom of SHG’s but that the Shivpuri episode has made it clear that it is not a one time solution to provide better nutritious food for children. In the long run one should understand that the Supreme Court has decided to keep contractors and private hands at bay for reasons which are of genuine concern.

Priya Pillai

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