So many in charge, but no one's accountable

After MiD DAY's sustained coverage on malnutrition deaths, minister Varsha Gaikwad says plenty of departments are in charge of children's welfare, but there are no takers for collective responsibility

Following a series of articles by this newspaper about the dismal condition of children,  instances of allegedly costly purchases, the alarming cases of child malnutrition, and the consequent deaths reported -- as many as over 619 aged 0-1 year last year in Nashik district alone -- the women and child development department has sought to clarify its stand.

Speaking with this newspaper on Monday, Women and Child Development Minister Varsha Gaikwad said that her department is taking the utmost care to fight the scourge of malnutrition. But a lot of other departments are involved, over whose functioning she has no control.

Tackling the issue: The state government will come up with a white paper
on malnutrition, and local MLAs and MLCs will be involved so that they
can have their say in eradicating the menace. PIC/SHADAB KHAN

However, for a better understanding of the subject, for the first time, the state government will come up with a white paper on malnutrition, and local MLAs and MLCs will be involved so they can have their say in tackling the issue. Through the exercise, a clearer picture will emerge that will help work things out in future, the minister said. "Ours is not the only department at the state level that is dealing with prevention of malnutrition among children and women. At least eight other departments are expected to do their bit as well," Gaikwad said.

"In fact, my department looks after 104 blocks. Each block takes care of 150 anganwadis in the 553 blocks. The remaining 449 blocks are controlled by the Rural Development Department. Except supply of food and distribution of budgetary provisions, our department has no control over the 449 blocks, and we cannot take officials to task for any lapses or dereliction of duty," rued the minister.

"Even after holding a few meetings with the minister and officials concerned, things are the same. We cannot initiate any action, nor can we order transfer from the 449 blocks even after major lapses in delivery of services come to our notice," Gaikwad said.

"Our department is concerned with anganwadi assistance and the supply of food. Other issues -- be it medical facilities, timely distribution of funds, implementation of other important programmes, special care of tribal communities and so on -- are taken care of by departments such as public health, food and civil supplies, tribal development, finance etc," she added. 

Future plan
Elaborating her plan of action, Gaiwad said, "A detailed survey was on to assess the ground realities. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has asked the additional chief secretary (public health) to head a committee that will coordinate with other departments and conduct a timely review of the measures."

About the allegations of overpriced procurements, she said, "A meeting was held a few days back over the purchases issue. We have a very limited role here also as the rate contracts for various supplies of commodities were ratified by the industries department. And we have to rely on Maharashtra Small Scale Industries Development Corporation (MSSIDC)." In fact, the MSSIDC cited a Government Resolution, to tell her that all the purchases were to be made only through them. "Similar is the case with medicines. The purchases were made according to the rate contracts approved by the Directorate of Medical Education and Research (DMER)." "But we have decided to depute six special flying squads to conduct surprise visits to anganwadi centres to verify the timely supply and availability of various required items," the minister concluded. 

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