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Maharashtra: Covid curbs removed, anganwadi centres remain shut

Activists claim the continued closure of anganwadi centres is not only hindering the pan-India nutrition programme, it is also affecting the non-formal pre-school education and health-checkups in the rural parts of the state.

Written by Rupsa Chakraborty | Mumbai |
Updated: April 8, 2022 8:24:56 am
Beneficiaries complained about the presence of stones in the ration. (Express)

WHILE Maharashtra may have revoked all Covid-19 restrictions, the government is yet to approve reopening of the 1.10 lakh anganwadi centres that provide hot cooked meals (HCM) to children up to six years of age, expectant, and nursing mothers. Activists claim the continued closure of anganwadi centres is not only hindering the pan-India nutrition programme, it is also affecting the non-formal pre-school education and health-checkups in the rural parts of the state.

The delivery of HCM to 87 lakh children up to the age of 6 years and to expectant and nursing mothers, under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, completely halted in March 2020 with the closure of the anganwadi centres when the pandemic hit India. Instead, the department started providing beneficiaries with Take Home Ration (THR) which comprises 2 kg each of rice, wheat, dal, chana along with cooking oil, salt and spices.

The move was opposed by the beneficiaries who complained about the quality of the ration. When The Indian Express visited Palghar and Dharavi — the biggest slum in Asia — women complained about the inadequate supply of cooking oil, spices and their quality. “The packets of rice and wheat have small rocks in them. So, it may weigh 2 kg on the scales, the quantity is lesser,” said Savitri Shinde, a resident of Mokhada Taluka, Palghar, who delivered her second child last December. Supply of rations also meant that it was consumed by the household and not just the child beneficiary. “Most of these families belong to poor economic backgrounds. So, the entire family ends up consuming the supply,” said Kamal Parulekar, secretary, Anganwadi Sevika Union general.

Beneficiaries also complained that some of the packages were close to the expiry date, forcing them to consume those fast. For instance, Sunita Ranjan Kumar, a resident of Dharavi, showed a one kilogram packet of chana with the manufacturing date of October 2021 which was supplied to the residents in the first week of January. “The packet mentioned ‘best’ before 4 months from packing. So, we had to consume it within three weeks or it would have expired,” she said.

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Meanwhile, anganwadi workers are also facing difficulties because of the continued closure of centres. As a part of their mandate, the workers have to routinely weigh the children in their respective areas. With the centres closed, the workers are forced to lug weighing scales during door-to-door inspection.

This becomes more problematic for the workers who work in hilly terrains in districts of Nandurbar and Gadchiroli. “Many of the weighing scales don’t function properly. We have written to the ICDS department requesting replacements,” said Rajeshree Londhe, an anganwadi worker at Govandi.

Anganwadi workers are also responsible of providing non-formal pre-school education to children between the ages of 3 and 6 years. For the last two years, most of the children from rural parts of the state are missing online curriculum for want of smartphones.

Sitaram Lokhande, a farmer from Chincholi Gavali, Morshi Taluka, Amravati district, said he doesn’t have the money to buy a smartphone for his 4-year-old daughter’s online education. “Sometimes, anganwadi workers gather children from nearby villages and teach them in someone’s courtyard,” he said.

The Women and Child Development (WCD) department, which is also eager to open anganwadi centres, also wrote to the state March-end, seeking approval. But so far, they are yet to get a response. “We have asked the workers to start coming to the centres. Recently, we also conducted Poshan Pakhwada (nation-wide annual programme to sensitise and engage communities, under Poshan Abhiyaan) at anganwadi centres and Maharashtra ranked first in India. Centres have started but we are waiting for the official approval,” said an officer from WCD.

When asked if the department has started providing HCM, the official said they cannot do so until they get the state’s nod. “To restart HCM, we have to make arrangements as it has been closed for two years. So, unless we get an official order, we can’t do that,” said the officer.

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