Attappadi deaths: PIL in HC blames State government apathy

published on June 17, 2013

Even as anganwadis under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) had been blamed for the death of 52 infants in the last 16 months due to malnutrition and anaemia in Attappadi, a question has been raised through a PIL in the Kerala High Court whether it is the absence of a full-time secretary for the Social Justice Department that played a major role in the state government not realising in time that the situation in the Attappadi belt was slipping out of control.

Social Welfare Department Secretary K M Abraham, as per the postings on the government website, has another four roles assigned to him. He is also Additional Chief Secretary to the state government, Secretary, Higher Education, Vice-Chancellor of the Kerala University and Vice-Chairman of the IHRD.

Social Justice Minister M K Muneer, speaking to Express, said the department only needed a part-time Secretary. “There is a full time Director who is in charge of the ICDS under which the anganwadis function. Moreover, the supply of nutrient food items to the anganwadis in Attappadi has been entrusted to the Civil Supplies Corporation since April 2013,” he said.

But the damage was already done by the private contractors supplying poor quality food to the hapless tribals. A cursory look at what transpired in mid-2011 points to the fact that the government failed to act on ample warnings regarding things going wrong in Attappadi, something that could have possibly been avoided if a department head was there to take decisive action.

On July 22, 2011, District Social Welfare Officer, Palakkad, had reported to the Director of the department and then again on September 29, 2011, on ‘rotten nutrient food items distributed through anganwadis in Attappadi and large-scale irregularities in the supply of food items unfit for human consumption’ in 138 of the 172 anganwadis in Attappadi.

It also called for an inquiry and action against the contractor.

Subsequently, the district programme officer of the ICDS cell on directions from the District Collector submitted a report about 18 months ago which stated that in 48 anganwadis rotten, contaminated and expired food items such as wheat, pulses, and green gram were supplied.

In another 90 anganwadis, stale coconut oil was purchased from a private company instead of Kerafed.

The PIL points to a Supreme Court directive that only government agencies or women self-help groups should be entrusted with the supply of food items and supplements.

The PIL, filed by C Bhaskaran, a member of the Kerala State Council for Child Welfare, calls for the posting of a full-time secretary to Social Justice Department, also highlights the irregularities in the supply of food supplements by private contractors.

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