Trouble in the courtyard

Trouble in the courtyard

Plight of anganwadis

Some anganwadis in Bagalkot district recently drew the ire of public for not serving eggs to the children during Shravana, a month considered holy by the Hindus. The workers found it convenient to sell the stock of eggs in the open market.

Some anganwadis in Bagalkot district recently drew the ire of public for not serving eggs to the children during Shravana, a month considered holy by the Hindus. The workers found it convenient to sell the stock of eggs in the open market.

Such cases of diverting resources meant to meet the nutrition requirements of children and women have become so common despite repeated complaints that people believe even high-ranking officials are privy to this breach of ethics.

READ: Malnutrition, still a malaise in Karnataka

In Karadi village of the district, Sharanamma, mother of an 18-month-old child, feels cheated every time the anganwadi worker cuts open the Pushti nutri-mix packet and gives her one-third of the total quantity.

She has seen her relatives in the neighbouring Ballari district get the whole packet— which is then sold and used as cattle feed. “I wouldn’t do that. Grown-ups in my house eat it because it’s healthy; but how shall I convince my little one to eat it? He spits it out. If I force-feed him even a couple of spoons of the ganji (porridge), he suffers from indigestion,” she said.

In Mariammanahalli in Ballari district, two kids have to share lunch from the same plate as the number of plates is half the number of children. As many as 40 kids occupy a small room, making it apparent that serving food is the only goal of an anganwadi.

However, that doesn’t mean the food is of great quality. In nine of the 11 anganwadis DH visited in Koppal, Raichur and Ballari districts, food was half-cooked, tomato was the only vegetable used, and the peanut burfi (chikki) was sticky and hard to eat.

Safe to eat?

DH also found that the ‘date of packaging’ information was missing and the ‘best before’ date was scored out on some nutri-mix packets supplied to the anganwadis and meant for children between six months and three years old — a clear violation of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India rules.

Renukamma of Potnal village in Raichur district had to pull people together when the anganwadi overlooked the family’s repeated requests to give allocated nutrition supplement to her nephew who was severely malnourished.

Unfortunately, many are not aware of the government provisions.

READ: Malnutrition: When the system fails children

Muttamma, who now gets milk powder and sugar, a cup-measure each, was surprised when she was told about other items her severely malnourished son was eligible for. “I wanted to request officials to pack food items meant for distribution. Now the chain seems to be full of holes.” 

Poor-quality food, malpractices, lack of infrastructure and learning aids, neglect and corruption have crippled the state’s anganwadis, which are at the core of the ambitious Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), hailed as one of the best interventions in the world.  

While there is a continued effort to improve the quality of food and its distribution, experts point to a critical aspect — the inability of anganwadi workers to identify undernourished children.

DH saw situations in which anganwadi workers were not comfortable acknowledging a malnourished child in the class, be it one with moderate or severe malnutrition, or were unable to identify them. This lack of capacity or neglect reflects in the records they keep. “Few maintain the nutrition chart in the anganwadis. So the accuracy is questionable,” said Jaya, a social worker who has been working with anganwadis in Ballari district.

S Varalakshmi, president of Karnataka State Anganwadi Workers’ Association, points at the 30-odd records anganwadi workers need to maintain, which eats up most of their time. “What should have been a thriving centre focusing on the overall development of children has now become a nodal agency to implement various government schemes. A large number of vacancies for the role of Anganwadi workers and supervisors indicates the government’s neglect towards the ICDS system,” she said. 

“There is a constant push to bring nutrition under the private sector,” pointed out Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a public health practitioner working in Karnataka.

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