That they are unmindful of the harsh realities of the economy has been made evident in recent days by netas quoting paltry sums that they believe an aam aadmi needs to spend to satiate his hunger. Small wonder then that the government’s measures to tackle the raging problem of malnutrition among kids appears deficient in both logic and will.
A mere Rs 5 per day per child is allocated under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). More shockingly, the state government takes away 8 paise as handling charges, leaving only Rs 4.92 for supplying supplementary nutritious diet twice a day to the kids (aged 7 months to 6 years) at 88,272 anganwadis in the state. About 86,31,910 children in the aforementioned age group are covered under the programme. So, the 8-paisa deduction amounts to approximately Rs 6.9 lakh per day.
Speaking to MiD DAY, Shubha Shamim, secretary of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), which also comprises anganwadi workers and helpers, said, “Firstly, the child is only entitled to a chiki, or a fistful of groundnut, or kurmura for breakfast, and approximately 80 to 150 grams of khichdi, or lapsi, or usal for their afternoon meal under the programme. The meal lacks in both quality and quantity.”
When asked how this food fulfils the requirement of balanced diet for a child, including ones falling in the moderate and severely malnourished categories, Shamim clarified, “A kid is supposed to get 7-8 healthy meals regularly to maintain the requisite balanced diet. But under ICDS only two meals are provided, which is insufficient. Apart from this, the child is deprived of sufficient food at home owing to poverty.”
Also, the Take Home Ration (THR) provided to severely malnourished children other than the food given at anganwadis is substandard. Sources say the ready-to- cook sheera, upma and other items supplied to the families often have to be thrown out or given to the cattle, as the quality is very poor.
But what is shocking is that most of the bachat gats, who supply cooked food to the anganwadis, have to wait three to four months to get their bills cleared. As a result, with no money coming in, the bachat gats compromise on quality and quantity of ingredients.
This was borne out when MiD DAY spoke to Jijabai Wagh (34), who runs a bachat gat at Shirsonpada, in Mokhada taluka, who has to wait for three to four months to receive her payment. “It is difficult to feed 42 children under ICDS, if we do not get compensated regularly, especially when prices of rice and dal in the open market are going up every day.” An anganwadi staffer, who did not wish to be named, said, “The khichdi that is served does not have sufficient dal or masalas, and hence is not palatable to many children. Usal is served without bread or rice, so a lot of them take it home.”
Interestingly, according to Shamim the state government, had issued a circular stating that the bachat gats should be getting rice and wheat at the prices set for Below Poverty Line (BPL) people. But none of these groups have a BPL card, because of which they can’t get subsidised grains from ration outlets and have to continue purchasing at prevailing market rates. Surprisingly, even the workers at the anganwadis are not paid the minimum wage.
Shiv Sena MLA Dr Deepak Sawant, who has been raising the issue of malnutrition for a long time, said, “It is shameful that the government is taking out a chunk of money from the paltry sum it is providing under the supplementary food programme. Moreover, corruption is at its peak at these centres, which is never probed. We would demand that the government holds the people accountable for their clandestine attitude and even book those found guilty under penal provisions. Also, a monitoring system has to be put in place to ensure that such things do not happen.”
Advocate Purnima Upadhyaya, a petitioner in Melghat malnourishment case of 2010, said, “This is ridiculous and not expected. Already we do not have a foolproof methodology to calculate the exact number of malnourished children in the state and what’s worse is that even from a sum of Rs 5 that is spent on their diet, a portion is taken out. By doing this, we are only showing the poor that they are poor, and depriving them of quality diet.”
Shamim demanded that the government immediately increase the allocated sum from Rs 5 to Rs 8, and the same be reviewed every year. Also, it is important that the government make and inquiry into where the 8 paise is going, as the same cannot be used for any other purpose, because it is allotted under the dietary supplement programme, he said.
State minister for tribal welfare and development Rajendra Gavit said, “I will have to inquire into this. I have called for a meeting of tribal secretaries and collectors to discuss the malnutrition issues, and will also examine the 8 paise that is being deducted.”
Varsha Gaikwad, Minister for Women and Child Development
The other Side
Neeta Kothare, assistant child development project officer, Jawhar, said, “In rural areas, the government pays Rs 4.92, and for tribal adivasi areas a sum of Rs 5.92 for each moderately malnourished child and Rs 8.92 for a severely malnourished kid, where apart from anganwadi food they are also entitled to THR packets. I have no clue about the 8 paise difference.”
Deputy commissioner (ICDS) Ashok Mankar said, “Out of Rs 5 per day per child, the central government pay Rs 2 and the state government Rs 3. Of this, a sum of 8 paise is deducted for anganwadi infrastructure.”
When asked how the 8 paise from food supplement funds can be used for infrastructure, he said, “I do not handle the accounts. This comes under the purview of the deputy CEO; he can address this better.”
Speaking to MiD DAY on Sunday on the issue of malnutrition, Varsha Gaikwad, minister for women and child development, had said, “I will get in touch with the concerned officials and will discuss the points with them and make a statement accordingly.”
ICDS in the state
There are 553 projects in Maharashtra of which:
>> 364 are in rural areas
>> 85 projects in tribal parts
>> 104 in urban slums
>> No of children 0 to 6 years of age covered under ICDS in Maharashtra is about 86,31,910
>> 88,272 anganwadis are functioning in the state under ICDS
80 to 150 grams
Amount of khichdi or lapsi or usal that the children get for lunch
Number of children aged between 0-6 who are covered under the programme