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A fund of millions of dollars raised to help malnourished children in western India has been diverted to maintain public buses, a report said on Friday.

The "Child Nutrition Surcharge" was set up 16 years ago to collect a small percentage of each bus ticket fare in major cities in Maharashtra state, where thousands of children die from malnutrition each year.

But public transport officials say that millions raised have yet to be transferred to the state treasury because they allegedly need the funds to maintain buses and keep them on the road, the NDTV news channel reported.

"All the transport undertakings are suffering huge loses. Therefore we cannot give the government the nutrition taxes we collect," said Ravindra Pardesi, a spokesman for the public transport company in Pune city.

"If we had deposited the money the government would have given us 2.5 per cent commission but the transport bodies are not in a position to do away with the funds because of the huge losses," he told NDTV.

Since 1997, Pune has collected 10 million dollars (550 million rupees) from bus passengers but handed over less than one million dollars to the fund, to the anger of local charities.

Mumbai owes nine million dollars and other cities in the state could owe even more, the report said.

Varsha Gaikwad, the state's minister for children and women's development, said she had been unaware the fund existed and would set up an enquiry into the matter.

Source: AFP