Cong questions distribution of fortified rice to 80 cr people, says policies being made by consultants
New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) The Congress on Thursday slammed the government for distributing fortified rice to 80 crore people of the country without any proper research and said that the policies of the current dispensation are being made by consultants.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day address in 2021 had said that the government is aiming to distribute fortified rice via government schemes by 2024.
Addressing a press conference at the party headquarters here, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, "Who drives the policy in the Narendra Modi government? If someone investigates then one would know how many consultants are there and for whom they are lobbying."
He said that a few days ago the government announced the distribution of fortified rice.
Taking a potshot at the government, Khera said, "The government decided earlier to damage the forces, the farmers and now they have decided to damage science."
The Congress leader said, "Crores of people are being fed fortified rice without bothering if it is safe or harmful and without consulting scientists."
He said that 138 lakh tonne of fortified rice has been distributed between 2018 and 2023 and people consuming 138 lakh tonne of fortified rice without any consultation or research.
Khera, who is also the chairman of the Congress media and publicity department, said, "Fortified rice is also harmful for people suffering from diseases that worsen with iron intake. People suffering from thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia and in acute phase of tuberculosis are medically not given iron. These diseases are prevalent amongst the poor, which are the beneficiaries of fortified rice."
He said that even the ICMR, India's premier medical research body, had serious doubts about the effectiveness of distributing fortified rice under the PDS.
The FSSAI is supposed to be a regulator. Its mandate is not to promote the grand plans of private companies, he said. The Congress leader added that the ‘grand plan' to rollout fortified rice and other food items (wheat, milk, oil etc) started with a conference in Cancun, Mexico in 2016, where international non-profits attended a symposium on rice fortification organised by Royal DSM and some global NGOs.
"Is it a coincidence that exactly one month after this conference, FSSAI started this ‘resource hub' for fortification awareness, even as there were hardly any studies supporting that claim to fight malnutrition," he said.
Khera stated that now consultants decide on the policy issues and not the IAS officers.
"In midday meals the same rice is used. Reporters collective came out with a report, we want to know why PM Modi decided to promote fortified rice," he asked.
He said that Royal DSM, a Netherlands-based company has put up a plant in India near Hyderabad. He said that this company reached the government through consultants.
"One of the associates of Royal DSM group is GAIN - Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition - has a history of championing corporate interests. In 2013, the World Health Organisation refused to recognize GAIN as an NGO over a business alliance network of food companies the group had set up. Another tech-focused public health non-profit - PATH - which was funded by Royal DSM helped FSSAI conceive its standards and even handouts for the fortification ‘resource hub'", Khera alleged.
Khera asked, "Why did PM Modi not ascertain the outcome of independent research studies or globally acclaimed studies on fortification and rolled out a nationwide scheme targeting 80 crore of India's poor? What was the hurry to risk the health and lives of 80 crore poor Indians? Does it not show the anti-poor mindset of the Modi government?"
He also asked what is the relationship between Royal DSM and the Modi government? Why did its regional vice-president François Scheffler express his sincere gratitude to the Prime Minister.
"Why did the Modi government's Food and Public Distribution Department, Ministry of Women and Child Development and the regulator FSSAI not listen to their own internal warnings, which were underlined repeatedly by experts and advisors? Why did they not listen to NITI Aayog members?" Khera questioned.