Children aged between one and six have no access to a school in Dolara village, which is located 130 kms away from Mumbai in the Mokhada taluka of Thane rural district. The sole anganwadi for the kids is in a dilapidated condition with no doors, toilets or windows. Repeated appeals to the authorities to save the situation and repair the structure have fallen on deaf ears.
Locals face a similar situation in most villages in Thane’s rural areas, which encompasses 924 gram panchayats, 1,270 villages/padas and 4,860 anganwadis. Of these, 600 anganwadis require either major or minor repairs to avert untoward incidents this monsoon. Some of them need to be rebuilt completely. However, the irony is that the state government has never made any budgetary provisions to repair the anganwadis; a shocking revelation that Sunday MiDDAY learnt after speaking to officials from Women and Child Development office in Thane.
When this reporter visited Dolara village to verify the facts, he was directed to an anganwadi — a completely dilapidated structure with broken brick walls, missing doors, windows, roofs and flooring.
Kalu Ugade, a local villager whose house is next to the structure, said, “This is the only anganwadi for children of our village, but, since the past two years, the building is in bad shape. Our numerous complaints to Zilla Parishad officials have gone unheeded. The kids now go to anganwadi teacher Shakuntala Jadhav’s house to study.”
Jadhav explained that she decided to take this step after she realised that it was risky to teach the children in the crumbling structure. “Since the past two years, I have made a makeshift anganwadi in my house. I studied only till class five and couldn’t continue my education. But I want these kids to learn, that’s the only way our village can progress.”
The anganwadi was started in 1992 under the government-run Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme. Jadhav explained that approximately 130 children from Dolara 1 and Dolara 2 villages avail the anganwadi facility. As per the government scheme, they were also given free meals. But the problem arose two years ago when the structure started falling apart.
‘No fund for major repairs’
When contacted, Dr Sucharita Thorat, ICDS officer and deputy chief executive officer, Women and Child Development, Zilla Parishad, Thane confirmed to SMD that no special budgetary provisions are made for repairs of anganwadis and funds weren’t available since two years. But, she added, that for the first time the state government’s tribal welfare department has sanctioned a fund of Rs 2.50 crore to repair the anganwadis.
This fund was originally given for construction of additional anganwadis in Thane district.
“As per our records, out of 4,860 anganwadis in Thane, around 600 require repairs. And as per government norms, we can only conduct repairs that cost anything between Rs 1,000 upto Rs 1,50,000. In case the structure is dilapidated, we have to seek special permission from the government to demolish the existing structure and construct a new anganwadi, for which the provision is Rs 4.50 lakhs,” she said.
She further added that she had received 59 complaints from the Mokhada taluka and had already sanctioned the repair works a week ago. “The zilla parishad deputy engineer will carry out the work.”
When contacted Varsha Gaikwad, minister for women and child development said, “I will look into this issue and try to resolve it as soon as possible. We usually get funds from various state government departments to meet the expenses. Even the public can come forward and donate generously for these anganwadis. They can directly approach the Zilla Parishad office.”
‘Loan to repay loan interest’
Vasai MLA and chief of Shramajivi Sanghatana, Vivek Pandit said that the dismal state of the anganwadis was a classic example of poor financial management in the state. “We have budgetary provisions for planned and unplanned expenses. Construction of anganwadis falls under the planned budget five-year programme plan, while its maintenance falls under the unplanned expenditure. The same is applicable for not only anganwadis but all government institutions across the state, where provisions are made for construction but there is no provision to maintaining the structures.”