Audits from an NGO have found 17 Anganwadis in the area are not feeding the malnourished children, in addition to stuffing them inside 10x10sqft homes, which double as their school
Even as the world celebrates World Health Day on April 7, children from Govandi would continue eating undernourished meals while sitting in their cramped makeshift classrooms, provided to them under the state women and child welfare ministry’s Anganwadi programme, which is seeing discrepancies in the area.
Children are often made to sit inside others’ homes, as the Anganwadis are run from within these places
Repeated audits of 17 Anganwadis — the area has a total of 135 — by NGO Lok Seva Sangam have revealed how 30-35 children are schooled in small, rented homes and how they are being cheated of their daily meal requirements, as only half the quota reaches their mouths, the rest being gulped down by the providers themselves.
Food is the biggest draw for children, but they are not even provided with nutritious food in the Anganwadis
Tuberculosis also wreaks havoc in the area in the vicinity of Shivaji Nagar with over 300 patients — 25 per cent of whom are children aged 0-12 – are on line-one treatment from the Shivaji Nagar vicinity.
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Anganwadis are covered by the Integrated Child Development Services Scheme (ICDS), which aims at providing services to pre-school childrenin rural, tribal and slum areas in an integrated manner so as to ensure their proper growth and development. ICDS is a centrally sponsored scheme that governs over 88,272 Anganwadis across Maharashtra, and aims to cater to around 86,31,910 children aged 0-6.
Shivaji Nagar, noted as an urban slum area, has around 135 Anganwadis for children as well as pregnant women. Lok Seva Sangam was chosen as the first NGO to monitor 17 of them as part of a pilot project to check the irregularities and issues faced in their functioning. The NGO started monitoring operations in March 2013. However, repeated audits revealed the shallow truth of the project.
Crammed in homes
While each Anganwadi caters to around 30-35 children, the children of Govandi are crammed inside 10x10sqft rooms taken on rent. When the officials were questioned about the issue, they said that Rs 700 — the amount provided to rent places per month — is insufficient to rent a bigger place, due to which the Anganwadis are run inside small homes instead of vacant rooms.
“The television is on, people are busy in their daily chores and in the middle of everything, these children sit in the houses,” said Sachin Jagtap, a member of the Anganwadi project of the Lok Seva Sangh.
The volunteers have also noted that while the timings of the Anganwadis are from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm, they are barely run for an hour or so, with the teachers rushing home as soon as they are done distributing the ration.
Shortage of ration
However, discrepancies are observed even in distributing the ration. Under the scheme, each child can avail 100 grams of cooked food and a 50-gram laddu made of nutritious ingredients, for catering to their diet to prevent malnutrition. However, repeated audits of the NGO revealed that the children are getting only half the food prescribed in the guidelines.
“The cooked food includes kheer, khichdi or boiled lentils and laddu, which has to be made of nutritious contents of 50 grams. However, after repeated audits, we realized every child was getting only 50 grams of cooked food, and the laddu would weigh only 10 grams. We have taken signatures of the sevikas present on duty after each audit,” said another NGO volunteer.
The audits also revealed that the quality of food served is extremely poor. A lot of the ingredients that are to be added are mostly ignored. “There would be no turmeric or nuts and the food would often taste bland. We have repeatedly written about it to the deputy commissioner and hopefully, changes have started coming in,” added Jagtap.
Weighing scales absent
While another major intention of the Anganwadi was also to locate the malnourished population in the vicinity, they do not even have weighing scales to measure the weight of the children. While the 17 Anganwadis have one weighing scale shared among four, sources confirmed that the rest are devoid of scales.
Moreover, the Anganwadis are supposed to provide services to pregnant women as well by keeping a watch on their weight and other important changes and coordinate about the same with the local health posts, but the lack of weighing scales has put the entire monitoring process on a back foot.
The NGO has already submitted their report to the deputy commissioner during a meeting, which took place on April 4. They are expecting that the necessary changes would propel the programme in a better direction.
Need political will: Researcher
Leena Joshi, a researcher from TISS, working for the ‘Transforming M Ward’ project of the BMC and also on the health aspect of the ICDS programme, said ICDS needs to bring about a number of changes to actually serve its purpose. “A political will is needed to implement and propel the program. The food is the only reason children come to the centre and even that is distributed randomly. Secondly, BMC establishments or community centres should be made available for ICDS. Food providers are not paid on time and there is also the issue of weighing scales. These issues need to be resolved at the earliest,” said Joshi.