Mucky Anganwadi Kendras of Bihar

   May 30, 1:58 pm

Patna, May 30 (ANI): The report card presented by the United Progressive Alliance government this week highlighted the opening of 27,000 new Anganwadi centres under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme.

In the 'Report to the People' presented for the year 2012-13, the UPA government announced that it had recently approved the strengthening of the ICDS which is implemented by the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry by allocating it with a budget of Rs 1,23,580 crores in the Twelfth five year plan.

In 1975, the ICDS scheme was launched by the Indian government to tackle the problem of malnutrition and ill health of mothers and children. The prime focus was on including the economically backward children and women into the development fold. However, till date, the implementation of the scheme on ground has not been very impressive.

A visit to an Anganwadi Kendra located in a grimy back lane of Dargah Road, Sultangunj in Patna, depicts a clear picture of the extent of implementation of this scheme on ground. Reality here is far from what is expected of an Anganwadi Kendra.

A cramped room, searing with the heat and smoke of the cooking chullah, offers no respite to the children trying to make themselves comfortable till it is time to go home. In one corner of this poorly- lit room sits the food weighing machine, leaving little space for a rugged mat meant for the children. The thirty-odd children who turn up infrequently are but reluctant visitors.

It is the start of yet another ordinary day at this Anganwadi Kendra. The young ones walk into the dingy room, listlessly take out their books and start reading out their lesson in an unorganized manner. As the sahayika (cook) prepares the khichdi, the sevika (teacher), sitting on her chair next to the gas stove, starts to mark the attendance of the children. It is one of many registers she will fill up.

This room that serves the purpose of a classroom, storehouse and a kitchen is looked after by Sevika - Seema Nahid and Sahayika - Afroz. After receiving four months training in health, nutrition and child care, the duo is responsible for providing care to the newborn babies, ensure that all children below the age of six years are immunized, provide antenatal care to pregnant women and post natal care to nursing mothers. The special focus is on providing supplementary nutrition to both - children below the age of 6 as well as nursing and pregnant women.

The filthy environment of the room does not, by any stretch of imagination, match the intention with which this ambitious community based child development programme was started. Unfortunately, today the beneficiaries are unable to avail the benefits of the well intentioned scheme because of shortcomings at both ends -policy level and implementation.

According to a report published in Panchayatnama, one of the leading Hindi newspapers of Bihar, the price rate fixed for the purchase of nutritious food is many years old and does not match up to the current rates. Anganwadi workers do not get good quality food at the old rates. The report says that for each child at the Anganwadi, only 57 paisa is allotted to the Kendra - for the lofty goal of fighting malnutrition in the country.

Similar is the situation with room rents for the Centers to operate in. "Every day, these children come to the center for their daily dose of nutritious food and pre-school activities. We try our best to provide them comfortable space in this small room but we are helpless as we can afford only this tiny room within the budget provided to us. We get only seven hundred rupees whereas the rent for this room is one thousand rupees," said Seema Nahid.

A fresh report tabled by the CAG in Parliament in March 2013 states that, as of March 2011, the number of malnourished children exceeds the 40% mark in 10 states. The audit of the flagship Integrated Child Development Services ( ICDS) Program says that a shocking 82% of children in Bihar are moderately to severely malnourished.

The report clearly points towards the dismal failure of the scheme to curb malnutrition in the state. When parents at this Centre were asked why they do not send their children to the Anganwadi Kendras, the response was mixed. A few expressed unhappiness at the condition of the Anganwadi Kendra. They claimed that care was simply not being taken to address the sanitation and safe drinking water problems at the Kendra. Others explained inability to enroll their children in the Centers. Worse, they had little knowledge of the very existence of the kendras. One of the parents, Najma, mother of five, watches her neighbours sending their children to Anganwadi Kendras in the locality but, as she shares sadly, her husband has refused to send their children too because he does not have faith in the working of these kendras. She is helpless to go against his word.

It may well be fair to assume that parents are sincere about their nurturing role and wish to provide their children with all possible opportunities that will give them a good start to a productive life. It may also be right to assume that the State is keen to improve the quality of the next generation of citizens and tap the demographic dividend that India flaunts to an increasingly ageing world.

And yet, the Charkha Development Communication Network feels that till the policy makers and implementers do not address the impasse that mothers like Najma and Anganwadi workers like Seema face, the dream of a healthy India will remain enmeshed in a cycle of good intentions hampered by poor design and execution. By Nikhat Parveen (ANI)

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