'Nothing reaches the poor children'

Anganwadi workers in Nasik allege kids do not even get the toys, medicines etc which the state buys for them at prices higher than those at local shops; officials claim reviews, surprise checks have stopped

The books of the state women and child development department need a thorough check not just for figures, but to separate reality from fiction, say anganwadi workers associated with tribal women and malnourished children the department is supposed to serve.

Nyaneshawar Thapar, all of 13 months, is being treated for
malnourishment at an anganwadi in Shirasgaon village
in Harsul district

After MiD DAY reported in a series of articles about the alleged irregularities in the procurement of commodities by the department in the name of helping starving and disadvantaged women and children, it is now doubtful whether the items even percolate to the grassroots.
This paper had earlier cited dubious purchase orders that cast a shadow on the department's buys, seemingly inflated.

But after some field research in Nasik district, several claims have arisen about how the purchases stationery, toys, medicines etc do not even reach the people they are meant for.

Moreover, officials allege that there is no review mechanism to keep a check on the operations of the department's various programmes.

Trickle down defect
The government claims to have spent Rs 3.68 crore on toys in 2010, which include 40 plastic balls (3 inch radius), 459 daflis, 65 plastic slates and pencils.
But when we visited some anganwadis in remote villages near Harsul taluka, none of the items were found with the children.

A broken slide, two horses and a tricycle supplied two months back is all that could be seen in the name of hefty allotments.

Tara Yadav, an anganwadi worker at Shirasgaon, said, "No one has come to repair the slide while the children fight for the only cycle. The situation is the same everywhere.

Some villages have not even received the toys."

An official from the department at the zilla parishad level pointed out the uncoordinated manner in which the purchases are carried out.

"The contracts for all these things are decided at the state or centre level, without even notifying the local corporation or zilla parishad," he said.

Sangita Patil, chairman of the women and child welfare committee in the district, said, "I have written to the central government, requesting them to send in all the details before sanctioning the money and also clarify whom the contract is given to. But in vain. We do not have any idea of the contracts, the quantity or quality."

Price gap
Anganwadi workers said that the price they pay for buying items at the local shops is much less than the cost submitted by the department.

While the cost of a 100-page register is Rs 52.30 and 300-page one is Rs 136.50 as per the department, we found that the same items cost Rs 45 and Rs 120 respectively at a local stationery shop in Harsul taluka in Nasik district.

An anganwadi worker from Harsul said, "Some villages do not receive the registers meant for children, and we have to purchase them from local shops with the money given to us for our own stationery."

And yet, the department spent Rs 2.54 crore on them in March alone. A local shopkeeper, Sunita Pawar, backed his claim, saying, "The anganwadi workers purchase registers from us yearly."

Similarly, the price of multivitamin syrup according to the state is Rs 301 per bottle, and the department spent Rs 3.92 crore on them.

But when MiD DAY visited one of the primary health centres in Shirasgaon village near Harsul, the medical officer on duty informed that its price was Rs 57.
"The medicines are sent as per the requirements cited by higher authorities," said the doctor.

No checks and  balances
According to a Supreme Court order, the collector of Nasik district is yet to carry out reviews of or any visits to the 26 projects of the women and child welfare centres (one project comprises several centres).

Around two years ago, the review procedure was regular and efficient but the current collector, officials allege, has stopped it.

Said an official from the welfare department said, "The ex-collector, the project officer, and the deputy CEO from the zilla parishad used to make mandatory visits every Wednesday.

But a month after the new collector assumed office, the visits discontinued." The collector had to visit five villages at least in a day, and submit a monthly report to the court. He would also carry out surprised checks.

Ranjit Kumar, CEO of the zilla parishad in Nashik, said, "I do not know why the visits stopped. They helped in keeping a check on the centres. It's been over a year that the visit has not taken place."

Despite several attempts to get in touch with the incumbent collector, P Velurassan, he remained unavailable for comment.

The Other Side
Despite several attempts to contact Dr A Ingole, deputy CEO in-charge of the anganwadis in Zilla Parishad, and Varsha Gaikwad, Minister of Women and Child Development, they remained unavailable for comment.

Number crunching: The price of multivitamin syrup according to the state government figures is Rs 301 per bottle. The department spent Rs 3.92 crore on them. But when MiD DAY visited one of the primary health centres in Shirasgaon village near Harsul, the medical officer on duty informed that its price was Rs 57.

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