The Uttar Pradesh Anganwadi Workers' struggle

Here we are talking about the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and its implementation in the state of Uttar Pradesh, because its performance has been among the worst among other states, standing fourth after Bihar, A.P and Daman and Diu, in the area of malnutrition of women and children, in 2013. According to the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development data, UP is a poor performer in the matter of underweight and malnourished children in the age group 0-6 years; this despite the fact that there was a stated annual fund of Rs. 3,000 crores allocated, in which the State and Centre were both contributors. It was seen that around 35.5% of the total children who had been beneficiaries of the scheme (2 crore) under the supplementary nutrition programme was underweight, and out of these, 62,728 were severely malnourished. Thus, the percentage of underweight children was significantly higher than the national average of 28.4%.

In popular perception, and also, in the view of the Central Government, the Anganwadi workers have not been able to achieve the required level of success and are mainly to blame for the non-performance.
However, when one talks to the implementers of the Scheme, the Anganwadi workers and helpers, they have a different story to tell-that they have been working hard against odds to achieve targets-a sad story of forced overtime work along with multiple tasks and unachievable targets; yet their own condition has remained abysmal, as they are treated not as employees of the Government but as volunteers in the Scheme, dependent only on paltry honorariums.
What has been the problem in achieving the set targets? Does the Scheme have inbuilt flaws because of a wrong Government policy, or is that its implementation is halfhearted and ridden with corruption? These are some of the questions that need to be answered for a proper appraisal of the prevailing state of affairs.

Centre vs State
With the above figures not coming down, the erstwhile Central UPA Government had done some restructuring and proposed the ‘ICDS Mission Plan’; in other words, the States and UTs would be responsible for bringing down the rates of child malnutrition and child morbidity and mortality with the help of corporates, private companies, NGOs and Self-help Groups. This would effectively mean that the Central Government would be absolved of the responsibility and accountability of proper implementation of the Scheme and achieving set targets. This restructuring has led to a fierce and ongoing debate on whether the change in policy would effect better performance. While there has been a spate of protests against the Mission Plan, the organization spearheading the movement, AIFAWH ,says that implementation of the Mission Plan means what is supposed to be a basic right for growing children would become some kind of largesse given by private parties and there would be no checks and balances; there are others who feel it would lead to greater accountability on the part of the States and UTs, and competition would trigger positive action in achieving targets. Reports from the state of U.P. say that the funds allocated for supplementary nutrition are more than enough-around Rs. 5000 per child. In 2013 the State Government had adopted the Mission mode and an amount of Rs 147.44 crore was granted for Phase I of the ICDS Systems Strengthening and Nutrition Improvement Project (ISSNIP) provision, where 41 UP districts were identified as high burden districts, where the instance of malnutrition is quite high. Yet, the State has not been showing any significant improvement in terms of fighting malnutrition.
A discussion with the Anganwadi workers has shown that though none could deny their efforts and quantum of time devoted to the work assigned, they have remained largely dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to them. The situation in Uttar Pradesh is representative of other backward states of the country, where social indicators are, as it is, poor. It also requires Herculean efforts in implementing the Scheme, it being the largest state in the country in terms of population (19.9 crore). For example, according to the 2011 Census, female population in the State is quite large-around 9.53 crore, while the sex ratio remains 912, which is much lower than the National average of 940.
The rate of population growth is also alarming at more than 20 percent, and female literacy is just above Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand at 59.3 percent, much lower than the National Average of 65.46 percent Long-standing Demands of the Anganwadi Workers Meanwhile the Anganwadi workers and helpers working in U.P. tell a story of Government apathy and callousness, no matter which Government it is-State or Centre. According to them, the Anganwadi workers are highly underpaid and overworked, having to do many kinds of jobs which are not within the purview of their regular duties. So, they have been demanding proper implementation of the manual. According to the workers, since long, they have been made to do several other kinds of work, which are totally unrelated to fighting malnutrition, and this takes away a lot of their time and energy. Also, lack of a fair wage, the status of volunteers rather than government employees, no promotion, as well as lack of incentives has gradually turned the employees into a disgruntled lot, having to relentlessly fight for their own rights along with those of the people they are serving.
Leaders of the Uttar Pradesh Anganwadi Supervisors’ Association feel that Government apathy and wrong policies are mainly responsible for the non-performance in this sector.

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