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Kept at arm’s length

Nikhat Parveen
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In bad shape:An anganwadi in Patna.
In bad shape:An anganwadi in Patna.

A cramped room, searing with the heat and smoke from the cooking chullah , offers no respite to the children trying to make themselves comfortable till it is time to go home. In one corner of this poorly-lit room sits the food weighing machine, leaving little space for a rugged mat meant for the children. The 30-odd children who turn up infrequently are but reluctant visitors.

It is the start of yet another ordinary day at the angwanwadi kendra in a grimy back lane of Dargah Road, Sultangunj in Patna. The young ones walk into the dingy room, listlessly take out their books and start reading out their lesson in an unorganised manner. As the sahayika (cook) prepares the khichdi , the sevika (teacher), sitting on her chair next to the gas stove, starts to mark the attendance of the children. It is one of many registers she will fill up.

This room that serves the purpose of a classroom, storehouse and a kitchen is looked after by sevika Seema Nahid and sahayika Afroz. After receiving four months’ training in health, nutrition and child care, the duo is responsible for providing care to the newborn babies, ensure that all children below the age of six years are immunised, provide antenatal care to pregnant women and post natal care to nursing mothers. The special focus is on providing supplementary nutrition to both children below the age of six years as well as nursing and pregnant women.

However, the filthy environment of the room does not, by any stretch of imagination, match the intention with which this ambitious community-based child development ICDS scheme was started in 1975. The prime focus was on including the economically backward children and women into the development fold. Unfortunately, today the beneficiaries are unable to avail the benefits of the scheme because of shortcomings at both ends — policy level and implementation.

According to a report published in Panchayatnama , one of the leading Hindi newspapers from Bihar, the price rate fixed for the purchase of nutritious food is many years old and does not match up to the current inflated rates. The report says that for each child at the anganwadi, only 57 paise is allotted to the kendra.

Similar is the situation with room rents for the centres to operate in. “Every day, these children come to the centre for their daily dose of nutritious food and pre-school activities. We try our best to provide them comfortable space in this small room but we, too, are helpless as we can afford only this tiny room within the budget provided to us. We get only Rs. 700 whereas the rent for this room is Rs. 1000,” said Ms. Nahid.

A fresh report tabled by the CAG in Parliament in March 2013 states that as of March 2011, the number of malnourished children exceeds the 40 per cent mark in 10 states. The audit of the flagship ICDS scheme says that a shocking 82 per cent of children in Bihar are moderately to severely malnourished. The report clearly points towards the failure of the scheme to curb malnutrition in the State. (Charkha Features)

Beneficiaries in Patna often keep away from anganwadi kendras due to their pathetic condition


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