The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) in West Bengal to combat nutrition deprivation and impart pre-school education below six years of age has reached to only half of the beneficiaries in the state even after three decades of its inception since 1975.
A recently published report by Pratichi Trust set up by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on ICDS across six districts in the state and across 28 ICDS centres in the state,pointed that much needs to be done in terms of infrastructure upgradation and expanding the reach of the programmes in the state.
According to the data provided by the Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare,the total number of ICDS centres in the state was 55,310 which covered 50 percent of all children eligible leaving out a large number of children who needed the benefit of the services, the report says.
The report also states that only 35.7 percent (10 of the 28 centres) in the state had their own houses. Rest of the centres operated from clubs,verandas of primary schools,temples or mosques,atchala (thatch -covered common places in villages where meetings are held) and sometimes simply under the trees.
Of the 28 centres where the research process was undertaken six of them which is about 21 percent functioned in open spaces.
The report clearly points that with the lack infrastructure,a nutritional programme involving cooking,storing the cooked food and serving becomes extremely difficult to manage.
Even if some of the workers had reportedly managed to get the food cooked in some houses in the neighbourhood,the serving of the food itself was vulnerable to a high degree risk of contamination owing to lack of protection, the report adds.
The major bottleneck is the lack of infrastructure. The anganwadi workers have to measure weight and other conditions of the children every month. In case of no proper space it is impossible to keep a record of the data collected by the workers, said one of the researches of the project. In case of other infrastructural capacity,only 5 of the 28 centres which are below ten percent had toilet facilities. More than half of the centres had no drinking water facility and helpers had to fetch water from outside.
About 50 percent of the mothers complained about the abysmally low quality of food served in the centres ,46 percent said that weighing of their children was not done and above 70 percent children said that no medicine was provided to the children, the report says.
The report has,however,not laid much emphasis on the pre-school activities another important aspect of the whole ICDS programme. Not much of the rural household considers the project as an alternative to Kindergarten but still who are comparatively better off have pointed towards these services, said a researcher. Half of the ICDS centres had no space for pre-school activities and in 11 centres,no teaching learning materials (TLM) has been provided.