A round-up of the big new stories to come from India over the last week.
Dikshit defends diet comments
Delhi’s chief minister, Sheila Dikshit has hit back at critics of her recent comments that a family of five can get by with enough rice, wheat and dal with just Rs600 per month.
Dikshit, one of the most powerful political forces in India, claimed that those attacking her remark could no comprehend the scale of her government’s ambitious food security programme.
"Those who are criticising me have not been able to understand the concept of the scheme," Dikshit said when her reaction was sought on the criticism of her comment.
She added that her comments were taken out of context. At the time, she said, she had been defining the broad contours of the scheme, explaining how a monthly cash subsidy of Rs600 would benefit 200,000 poor families. The money would be transferred directly into an Aadhaar-linked bank account of the senior-most female member of each family.
Sonia Gandhi, the chair of the UPA government coalition, had on Saturday launched the food security scheme.
"The scheme has been launched to support those who are not covered by the public distribution system. We want to support those who are not getting subsidised food items. We are extending a humble help," Dikshit said on Sunday, rubbishing criticism, which came mostly from the opposition BJP.
Attacking Dikshit for her comment, the party’s leader, Vijay Goel, said the chief minister had no idea of the cost of flour and pulses.
"Dikshit has never been to a jhuggi cluster, unauthorised colony or village. That is why, despite being a woman, she has no idea of atta and dal. Before the elections, this scheme has been brought to lure voters," he said.
New study looks into reasons for high instance of anemia in Kerala
The Directorate of Health Service (DHS) has given the go-ahead for the Nutritional Research Centre (NRC) in Kerala to launch a one-year programme to screen the food habits of girls and find out where their food habits are going wrong.
The programme was designed in the wake of study reporting that 27% of girls studying in higher state secondary schools the state are anaemic.
The new study will take place across 30 selected schools, where girls will be given proper advice on eating. "We will screen all the girl students and provide them with tips for correcting food habits. Teachers and parents also will be given instructions to ensure that the students follow the correct habits," an official associated with the project told Times of India. "We will evaluate progress once in three months.”
Last year, the NRC conducted a survey among 750 girl students across 140 schools in Kerala that discovered that over a quarter were suffering from anaemia. The researchers were unable to link poverty with all cases of the condition, although they did find a growing trend for girls to skip breakfast, which they suspect might have something to do with the high results.
President reveals new street food standards
As he unveiled new public food safety requirements, India’s president noted that food safety and ensuring clean and nutritional food should be a key priority for future government policies.
Speaking at a national seminar for food safety, Pranab Mukherjee said that even though India has made strides in food production at a time when globalisation has given a significant boost to food trade, these developments have in turn created a new set of challenges to food safety.
The government has released the BIS Indian Standards for Food Safety requirements for street food vendors as what the president referred to as an important step.
“It has important economic and nutritional implications for our urban populations as street foods are an accessible and affordable option for a sizeable percentage of our working population,” he asserted.
KV Thomas, the food minister, said that the new standards would focus on providing minimal check points for ensuring safety of street foods by assuring food security for a large number of rural, urban and migrant populations in terms of hygiene and quality.
“These will also act as a bridge between the street food vendors and the consumer of street food, and assure that the street food conforms to specified standards and hence are safe,” he explained.
FDI allegations refuted by Wal-Mart
Earlier in December, the Indian parliament voted in favour of allowing foreign companies to invest in the country’s multi-brand retail sector. It appeared to be a close to the final chapter of a saga that had been continuing for years.
But now it seems there is more drama. Indeed, last week parliament was in uproar over Wal-Mart spending $25m to lobby American politicians for “enhanced market access for investment in India.”
Some politicians are demanding an inquiry into whether the global retail giant spent money in India. The Indian government has offered to set up a probe.
Wal-Mart, refuting accusations of bribery, has countered by pointing out that US laws require American companies to disclose lobbying expenditures on a quarterly basis.
“These allegations are entirely false,” it said. “The expenditures are a compilation of expenses associated with US federal lobbying contacts and include staffing cost, association dues and payments made to consultants, all in the US.”