Presently, anganwadi services in several rural areas of Rajasthan are failing to provide adequate support to children and pregnant women. The writer says that it becomes imperative for the local administration and the state government to take stringent measures to ensure transparency, lack of which has led to the state of affairs
In 1975, the anganwadi (nursery providing care for mothers and children) centres were established across India with a crucial objective: to protect pregnant women and children under the age of six from malnutrition and create a healthy environment for them. The impact of anganwadi centres was remarkable, especially in rural areas, where they played a vital role in combating malnutrition and diseases. However, nearly five decades later, it appears that the scheme is veering off its intended course. At present, anganwadi services in several rural areas of Rajasthan, including Malpur Village in the Salumbar Block in Udaipur, are failing to provide adequate support to children and pregnant women.
Malpur Village is located approximately 70 km from Udaipur District and covers a large area, situated about 10 km away from the block. The village consists of around 200 houses and has a population of approximately 1,150 residents. Due to its hilly region and remote location, Malpur Village has only one anganwadi centre, which caters to the enrolment of three-year-old children. However, the services provided by the centre fall short of meeting the community’s needs.
According to the centre’s staff, they claim to provide nutritious food to the children once a month, with prior information sent to all households. The food items mentioned include sweet porridge, salty porridge, khichdi (made of rice and lentils), rice, and others as part of the nutrition programme. The villagers, though, express deep dissatisfaction, stating that the reality contradicts the claims made by the centre’s staff. They argue that the services provided by the anganwadi centre are far from satisfactory and fall short of meeting the needs of the children and pregnant women in the village.
Kamla Devi (name changed), a woman from the village, reveals that they do not receive any information regarding nutritious food from the anganwadi centre. “We have to repeatedly visit the centre to find out. When we see others bringing food from there, we also go to get it,” she says. According to her, information is provided once every two or three months and the villager are barely aware of the entitlements from the centre.
“There are forty-six children enrolled in this anganwadi centre, ranging in age from three to six years, but only ten to twelve children actually attend the centre. The centre lacks facilities related to the development and education of these children. The low attendance is attributed to the children’s homes being far away from the anganwadi centre, with many houses located five to six km away,” Devi adds.
Although according to a report, Rajasthan’s Women and Child Development Minister Mamta Bhupesh had requested the Central Government to approve 5,000 new anganwadi centres considering the state’s geographical expanse; only 215 new centres have been approved thus far. The state government had argued that Rajasthan’s villages are scattered over vast distances, making it difficult for many children to access the benefits as they and their mothers cannot usually travel ten to twelve km.
In addition to the inadequate number of anganwadi centres, the existing ones also fail to deliver the intended benefits to the villagers. Expressing concern over the issue of lack of communication at the centre, another parent who preferred to be anonymous says, “With only a handful of children attending, sometimes as few as four to five, information regarding important matters is never shared with the parents. During food distribution, only a select few children receive meals, and the situation is documented through photographs.”
The parent also emphasised how until 2020 the centre catered to a full roster of children, providing them with timely access to nutritious meals and other facilities. “Currently, the children are given food of such poor quality that parents believe it would be better to feed it to animals instead of their child, in order to ensure their child’s health,” the parent adds.
Contradicting such allegations, those associated with the anganwadi centre claim that food is provided every month. They explained that when parents come to collect their child’s food, they provide food for both months altogether. Additionally, they stated that Nutrition Day is celebrated at the centre every month. However, the veracity of the parents’ statements compared to the accounts of the centre’s employees is a matter of investigation.
This is not the first instance of such allegations emerging solely in Malpur Village regarding the functioning of the anganwadi centre. Similar accusations have been made in rural areas of other states as well. In such circumstances, it becomes imperative for the local administration and the state government to take more stringent measures to ensure transparency. Achieving transparency can be accomplished through regular inspections and monthly meetings involving all village members, similar to a panchayat. This approach is crucial as it not only pertains to the credibility of the anganwadi centre but also the well-being of the children in the villages.
(Courtesy: Charkha Features. The author is a development worker from Udaipur, Rajasthan.)