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Union leader shoots down state's defence of Rs 7-lakh 'handling fees'

In a defensive letter, the state’s Women and Child Development department has reacted to MiD DAY’s coverage on the death of malnourished children in Jawhar and Mokhada talukas, situated barely 150 km from Mumbai.


Hard to digest: According to Shubha Shamim, the quality of Take-Home Ration supplied to anganwadis is of inferior and substandard quality. It is so tasteless that people prefer to use it as cattle feed

In the story that the department specifically responds to, MiD DAY had revealed that the state deducts eight paise every day from the total daily sum of Rs 5 that is allocated by the government to feed each malnourished child, and terms it ‘handling fees’ (‘State takes Rs 7 lakh a day out of malnourished kids’ food fund’, August 7).

Click to view: Maharashtra govt takes Rs 7 lakh a day out of malnourished kids' food fund
MiD DAY report on August 7

While the three-page-long letter written in Marathi justifies the deduction of eight paise from each child’s meagre Rs 5 allocation, the rationale that it provides has been countered, point by point, by Shubha Shamim, secretary of CITU (Centre of Indian Trade Union), which also oversees anganwadi workers and helpers.

We reproduce the claims made by divisional deputy commissioner of the Women and Child Welfare department (Konkan) B T Pokharkar in a letter dated August 8. Shamim has systematically countered each claim.

Claims made by the department
The department provides six types of services for the benefit of pregnant women, lactating mothers, adolescent girls and children between 0 and 6 years. Currently, the department operates 96,820 anganwadis and 10,489 mini anganwadis. The April 2013 progress report of the department says that 73,53,524 beneficiaries are taking advantage of the scheme.

THR (Take-Home Ration), which can last for 25 days, is being supplied for children in the age group 6 months-3 years. The ration consists of 120 gm sheera, 120-gram upma and 130-gram sattu per child every day. Children who fall in the severely malnourished category get 60 gm extra sheera every day. The letter provides rates for these food items.

A supplementary diet is supplied to help the children get necessary nutrients in their diet (calories, proteins, minerals, etc). Eight paise from the total amount is being used to buy other nutrients like zinc powder, nachni biscuits, vitamin syrup, ayurvedic biscuits, iron and folic acid tablets, which is supplied by commissioner’s office. The funds available through special component plan and tribal supply are being used to purchase medicine and syrup for the benefit of children, lactating mothers, and pregnant woman. To monitor and supervise the six types of services, various officials in the rank of commissioner, joint commissioner, divisional deputy commissioner, ICDS officers, and supervisors are appointed. The headquarters analyse the progress made through monthly reports.

The project officer of ICDS pays regular bills to self-help groups for the supply of foods, but if the bills are pending owing to some technicalities, the headquarters provides timely guidance. At Shisonyacha pada, the bill for 4 months could not be paid, but it is now being cleared.

The project officer of ICDS pays regular bills to self-help groups for the supply of foods, but if the bills are pending owing to some technicalities, the headquarters provides timely guidance. At Shisonyacha pada, the bill for 4 months could not be paid, but it is now being cleared. 

Shubha Shamim’s counterclaims
The ICDS website (http://www.icds.gov.in/#) shows that 86,31,910 children in the age group 0-6 years benefited from the statewide scheme. However at ground level, the actual number of beneficiaries is far less than 86 lakh, as all children do not visit the anganwadis daily. The budget allocation, however, is based on the figure of 86 lakh.

The quality of THR supplied to anganwadis is of inferior and substandard quality. It is tasteless, and moreover is not consumed by children below 3 years, or even lactating and expecting mothers, who prefer to use it as cattle feed. "Our plea to the government to provide cooked food instead of THR has fallen on deaf ears since 2010," said Shamim.

Nachni and ayurvedic biscuits are present only on paper, and supply comes only once in a blue moon. Many anganwadis in the interior parts do not even get them. At Jawhar, the biscuits were last supplied seven months ago. The government's claims that it has spent Rs 14 crore on purchases of these biscuits is just absurd. Also, medicines like zinc powder, folic acid etc come under the health component and are supplied separately by the health department. Why this duplication? The eight paise taken out should be used only for food items and not on medicines. The ground reality is that in many anganwadis the post of CDPO (child development project officer) is either lying vacant or additional charges are given. Moreover, supervisory staffers do not have their own vehicles, and have to depend on public transport, making it difficult for them to visit anganwadis regularly. There is also a lack of accountability and responsibility, as reports are only on paper, and no systems are in place to crosscheck them.  

The fact is that the self-help groups (bachat gat) all across the state have to wait for three to four months to clear their food bills. There is no post of an accountant in ICDS offices; unless the earlier bills are cleared, no fresh payment is made, and usually the submission of reports and accounts is delayed at the ICDS level.

The fact is that irrespective of government notification, none of the self-help groups have the BPL cards, and they are forced to buy foodgrains from the open market. The government wants to restart the supply through federations, which we had opposed earlier, as they supplied inferior quality foodstuff.  

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