J’khand govt to roll out scheme to distribute fortified rice under PDS; rights activists raise concern

Ranchi, Sep 11 (PTI) In a bid to deal with malnutrition and anaemia among women and children in the state, the Jharkhand government is all set to launch a programme to distribute fortified rice through PDS across 24 districts, officials said on Sunday.

Food rights activists, however, raised concern over the ‘Rice Fortification Scheme (RFS)’, alleging that health impacts due to the consumption of fortified rice, particularly on those who are suffering from thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia diseases, have not been studied properly.

State food and public distribution department director Dilip Tirkey told PTI that they are waiting for an official letter from the government to roll out the scheme.

“It is part of a national programme. We are ready to roll out the scheme across 24 districts of Jharkhand. Of the 65 rice mills in the state, blending units have been installed at 44 facilities,” he said.

Blending units will be set up at all the mills in a phased manner, Tirkey said.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has defined fortification as “deliberately increasing the content of essential micronutrients in a food so as to improve the nutritional quality of food and to provide public health benefit with minimal risk to health”. The Jharkhand cabinet had on September 1 approved the programme for distribution of fortified rice, blended with iron, folic acid and vitamin B12, among beneficiaries enrolled under the national food security scheme through the public distribution system.

“The main objective of the programme is to fight against chronic malnutrition and anaemia in the state,” Tirkey said.

Around 39.6 per cent of children under the age of five years in Jharkhand are stunted, which indicates that they have been undernourished, as per the national family health survey (NFHS-5).

Jharkhand’s 65.3 per cent of women in the age group of 15 to 49 years and 67.5 per cent of children between six and 59 months are anaemic, according to the survey.

The department had taken up a pilot scheme last year in two blocks -Dhalbhumgarh and Chakulia – in East Singhbhum district for nine months.

“The pilot project was successful in the two blocks but food rights activists have raised concern over the implementation of the scheme,” another official said.

In a bid to find out the impact of fortified rice on people in the blocks, where the pilot project was implemented, two civil society organisations — Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA-Kisan Swaraj) and Right to Food Campaign — carried out a study and found “violation of government guidelines for distribution of fortified rice as the programme did not include officials of health department”, rights activists claimed.

Right to Food Campaign member Balram told PTI, “The Centre’s regulations say that sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia patients must not consume iron-fortified food. But, we found that no separate arrangement was made for such beneficiaries in PDS stores.” PDS dealers, frontline functionaries and elected representatives in the two blocks were not aware of various aspects of fortified rice, he said, adding that several doctors expressed their concern over the implementation of the scheme.

A fact-finding team urged the Jharkhand government to “reject rice fortification in food schemes as an approach to tackling malnutrition”.

The food and public distribution department has decided to hold a workshop on issues raised by the NGOs on September 16 in Jamshedpur.

“A senior doctor from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, has also been invited to the workshop to throw light on various issues related to fortified rice,” Tirkey said.

The National Food Security Act (NFSA) was rolled out in the state on October 1, 2015. Around 57 lakh households covering 2.63 crore people, around 80 per cent of Jharkhand’s population, have been provided with rice at Re 1 per kg under the scheme.

The state government had also rolled out the Jharkhand State Food Security Scheme under which 15 lakh people, deprived of NFSA, have been enrolled.

The government has recently decided to add five lakh more beneficiaries under the state scheme. PTI SAN BDC BDC

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

Date: 11-Sep-2022