The number of malnourished children under age five in Chhatisgarh has been growing over the last ten years.
“If we had our own building then the space problem would be solved. There’d also be facilities like drinking water and toilets” says Anamika. Anamika is an Anganwadi Sevika in Jharna village of Raigarh district of Chhatisgarh. She is charged with imparting pre-school education to children as well as cooking and feeding them meals to make up for nutritional deficits. Anganwadi Centres, under the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS), are primary centres that disburse nutrition and preventative health services as well as preschool education to children under six, lactating and pregnant women and teenage girls. Jharna has five Anganwadi Centres that serve the population of over 2500. But unfortunately only one has a designated building. The other four are run in an ad hoc manner from empty primary schools, rented premises and sometimes even the courtyards of residential houses.
The ICDS scheme was launched in 1975 with the primary aim of combating malnourishment in children. Forty years on, with 38.4% children suffering from stunting and 35.4% being underweight, India still remains one of the countries with the largest percentage of children who are malnourished. The National Family Health Survey, conducted once every ten years shows minor improvement in the health indicators of children and women. But the overall national picture belies the dark underbelly of neglect and apathy that plagues marginalised areas.
In Raigarh district, where Jharna is located, anaemia, stunting, wasting and low weight among children under five have all increased in the last decade. This, despite the India average which shows malnourishment is decreasing. ICDS mandates that children between three and six should be given two meals at the Anganwadi centres with a total of 500 calories and 12 to 15 grams of protein per child. Anganwadi centres should be at least 600 square feet with separate sitting rooms for women and children, storage space for food, child-friendly toilets, outdoor and indoor playing areas. The Ministry of Women and Child Development also makes a provision of constructing these centres in conjunction with the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. In Jharna, the lack of space in the absence of Anganwadi buildings directly affects the ability of the Sevikas to provide proper care and nourishment to the children. “There’s no place to seat the children and it’s difficult for me to cook,” says Anamika.
Almost 33% of existing Anganwadi Centres operate out of rented premises and 19% lack pucca buildings.
Only 4% of the total health budget is allocated to the ICDS. The spending on Anganwadis has been steadily declining in the national budgets. At the same time, the government is bent on making expensive, gimmicky plans that do nothing to solve the real problems. Chattisgarh, along with some other states with high rates of malnourishment, is slotted to get ICT enabled real time monitoring, through a special app enabled on the phones of the Sevikas and on the tablets of supervisors. The government claims this will make monitoring transparent. But when reports reveal that almost 33% of existing Anganwadi Centres operate out of rented premises and 19% lack pucca buildings, is it really necessary to allocate the already meagre fund towards such initiatives?
Community Correspondent Rajesh Gupta reports that the Anganwadis in Jharna that run from rented premises have stopped receiving reimbursement for the monthly rent–so neglectful the officials are about this crucial service. After he and the Sevikas met with the Panchayat members, they were assured that they are going to identify land where new centres can be built. But so far, there has only been sanction for two out of the three buildings needed. More delay is expected as the officer in charge of public infrastructure has recently been transferred. Anamika and the other Sevikas are hopeful that their longstanding demands will be met soon. To help expedite the construction of the Anganwadi centres please call the Women and Child Development Project Officer, Anita Agarwal on +91 9525231058 and ask her to take the necessary steps.
Article by Madhura Chakraborty