Madras HC had banned taking home hot food from anganwadis

In a tiny anganwadi centre in Muthialpet at the border of Puducherry and Tamil Nadu, the anganwadi worker, Saraswati, has a tiffin box filled with curd rice. She proceeds to take turns to feed the young children, who are sitting on the floor.

“Since many of the children come here regularly and there is no more hot food, we bring food from our homes for the fussy eaters, especially those that do not eat the weaning food,” she explains.

An anganwadi is the place where children and mothers go to receive nutritional supplements, especially those families that are unable to afford nutrition or those that do not have access to good food. Unfortunately, for the past three years, the Puducherry government has stopped providing hot food at the anganwadi centres.

In 2011, the Madras High Court passed an order that banned the practice of taking home hot food from the anganwadis, which rang the death knell for hot food at the anganwadis in Puducherry. Since then, the gas connections were removed from many centres and the children were only provided the weaning food, one of the officials from the Department of Women and Child Development said.

The problem with the ban was that many of the children, who used to come regularly to the centres to eat food, lost out on some amount of supplementary nutrition. Many of these children are not able to afford food on a regular basis, and there was a problem since they refused to eat weaning food.

On a daily basis, the anganwadis used to provide some form of nutritious food, including eggs, ragi flour puttu, rice and sambar for the young children, adolescent girls and pregnant mothers. Now, if the anganwadi worker really cares about her children, she sometimes brings food from home, the official said.

On the other hand, in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu, a significant number of anganwadi centres have gas stoves and are provided with ingredients and they are expected to cook on a daily basis.

On three days of the week, the children are given eggs and a variety of other nutritional food is given.

“In the Vanur Taluk alone, of the 178 Anganwadis, 176 are given gas connections. Since there is a ban on taking home the food, the children sit in the centre and eat before they leave. This helps ensure that many of these children have at least one hot meal in the day,” anganwadi worker Uma said.

At the end of the day, it all depends on the interest of the anganwadi worker, she explains; while the schemes in place are good, it is the implementation that matters, she said.

(This story has been facilitated under the One World-POSHAN fellowship grant).

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