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The Hiranyakashyaps of Uttar Pradesh

Neha Dixit |

With sixty percent children malnourished in the state, the implementation of the Integrated Child Development Services, the largest scheme to provide nutrition to children in the country, is nothing but a sham.

Sitting outside her semi-pucca house in Bilgram block, Kasturi says, “My children get five fistful of panjiri once a month from the Aanganwadi Centre.” Thirty-three year-old Kasturi has never, in her parents’ village or her in-law’s village seen an Aanganwadi open more than twice a month. Bilgram is in the Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh, 110 km from the state capital Lucknow. Panjiri is a mix of wheat flour, sugar and ghee, rich in carbohydrates and one of the ready to eat foods provided under the supplementary nutrition programme of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

Unfortunately, the situation of ICDS in the state has found a vague allegory in this chapter of Hindu mythology. Here Hiranyakashyap is the failure of the system and Prahlad represents the number of children to be covered under ICDS. Hardoi needs a Narsimha to sort ICDS.

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) was launched in India in 1975. It is apparently the largest system in the world meant to provide an integrated approach by converging basic services through community based workers and helpers. Funded by the Central government, it is India's primary social welfare scheme to tackle malnutrition and health problems in children below 6 years of age and their mothers. In the last financial year, UP was among the top five states to receive the maximum grant for ICDS. The programme aimed at making the girl child (up to her adolescence), all children below six years of age, pregnant and lactating mothers, its main beneficiaries.

The Supreme Court in its order dated 28th November 2001, directed that every settlement should have an Aanganwadi centre that distributes supplementary nutrition to all children under six, all pregnant and lactating mothers and all adolescent girls for at least 300 days in a year. According to the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), 86 percent children in Uttar Pradesh, under the age of three are anemic and 30 percent of them may die before they hit five.

In an independent report by Arundhati Dhuru, advisor from U.P. to the Commissioners appointed by the Supreme Court in the matter of Right to Food, 48 percent Aanganwadi centres were found closed in nine districts of Raebareli, Sitapur, Hardoi, Kanpur, Allahabad, Shahjahanpur, Fetehpur, Barabanki and Lucknow last year.

The kind of situation Kasturi describes also corroborates why the Aanganwadi centres are known as panjiri or daliya distribution centres. Children only come to the Aanganwadi to collect their share of panjiri. The irregular distribution by the Aanganwadi centre not only affects the targeted nutrition for children but also an in growth monitoring, nutrition and health counseling, immunization, basic health care, referral services and pre-school education under the programme. It is estimated that UP has over 3.1 crore children under six years of age, the number of children covered by the SNP, according to the UP ICDS records is only 1.8 crores. It is then clear that the official records also exclude 40 percent of the children from SNP coverage.

“My boys eat the panjiri as a snack. Sometimes they finish it and sometimes it just keeps lying. In winters, it is not possible to eat dry panjiri, ” tells Kasturi, elaborating on the loopholes and the inefficiency of SNP.

According to the Supreme Court order dated 7th October 2004 which was later reaffirmed in the order dated 22d April 2009, the state government is to ensure provision of hot cooked meals in all Aanganwadi centres in a phased manner latest by 31st March 2009. Currently 897 ICDS projects are operational in UP. The total number of sanctioned AWC centres is 1,51,469. In 2007, the UP government had planned to implement the order of decentralized food model with hot cooked meals in a phased manner by 2009-10 in 470 centres. It has been implemented only in 200 centres till date.

Kasturi’s block is one of the fifty percent Aanganwadi centres that still do not provide hot cooked meals. Kunti, the Aanganwadi worker at the centre explains, “There are two problems: first, we haven’t been paid for the last six months and second, the government expects us to buy the food material and submit food bills. Is it possible?” The same problem has been resonated in other parts of India like Attapady in Kerala where submitting bills for reimbursement for cooked meals is a major problem for Aanganwadi workers. A few months ago, several Aanganwadi, Asha workers marched to New Delhi demanding their wages. They continue to wait.

Importantly, even the funds that are actually allocated for the hot cooked meals are abysmal. Mandated by the Supreme Court order of 2009, even when the price of a hot cooked meal was raised from Rs 2 a child to Rs 4, the state government has yet not revised the cost. Kunti goes on to add, “We haven’t even been provided the money to buy utensils. It is expected of us to make our own arrangements for that.” In 2009, the Uttar Pradesh government wrote to the Supreme Court commissioners that it does not have the budget to buy utensils. The situation since then remains unresolved.

Kasturi is a daily wage labourer from the Balmiki community. She throws light on another impracticality of the programme, “Also, it is not possible for me to go to the Aanganwadi centre everyday.” Thus, she receives nutrition supplement for her three year old daughter at one go. That goes straight to the family pot. So the emphasis on the ‘girl child’ in ICDS goes for a toss since the girl gets to eat the almost the same portion of meal as she did before receiving the designated supplementary nutrition under ICDS. Also, Kasturi lives on the outskirts of her village in a habitation of the Balmiki samaj. The Aanganwadi centre is at a distance of 10 km from her village.

A Supreme Court order dated 13th December 2006 clearly orders the governments to ensure universal coverage under ICDS of all urban slums and SC/ST habitations across the state on a priority basis. The survey of urban slums and rural hamlets with more than 50% SC/ST population was never completed by the UP government which was a pre-requisite to implement this order according to the report by Arundhati Dhuru.

In 2005, during the reign of chief minister Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh (UP), Ponty Chadha, liquor baron and owner of Waves group of companies who was killed in November last year, won statewide contracts to supply ready to eat food for poor, underweight or otherwise malnourished children under the world's largest child-health programme, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). According to the Supreme Court order of 7th October 2004, the use of contractors in provision of supplementary nutrition to ICDS is banned. Village communities, Mahila mandals and Self-help groups should be given the preference for preparing the food to be served in ICDS. This initial contract to Chadha, also an owner of Great Value Food, was for Rs 10,000 crore. It was renewed when Mayawati led Bahujan Samaj Party government took over UP in 2009. In a report by the National Human Rights Commission that investigated Chadha’s factories in Gorakhpur in March, 2011, “The food is produced in poor hygienic conditions…does not seem to contain the ingredients claimed and the weaning food may not be suitable for babies." The report also stated that 63 percent of the funds were misappropriated.

To just add insult to injury, a Comptroller Auditor General report that investigated the sale of 21 sugar mills, including one in Hardoi during Mayawati’s rule stated that Chadha was favoured by Mayawati and it costed a loss of Rs 1200 crores to the state government. Chadha ‘s firms continue to enjoy favours with the present Samajwadi Party government.

The proposed Nutrition Mission for UP, on the model of Maharashtra’s Rajmata Jijau Nutrition Mission launched in 2005, is an extension of this brazen cocktail. In 2012, when Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav earmarked Rs 1,000 crore for his populist laptop distribution scheme, it almost amounted to the ten percent of the overall health budget of Rs 10,000 crore. A few months later in October, Dimple Yadav, Akhilesh’s wife and MP from Kannauj in UP ‘met’ Akhilesh to express concern over malnutrition in the state. This is when the Nutrition Mission was announced on the lines of Maharashtra. Interestingly, a report by Biraj Patnaik, the Principal advisor to the commissioners appointed by Supreme Court on Right to Food, “Despite seven years having past since the Honourable Supreme Court banning contractors from the ICDS…the politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus has managed to violate the orders of this court with impunity,” in the Congress-controlled Maharashtra government and contractors undermine laws. It said that even after the SC judgement of 2004, Maharashtra continued giving nutrition contracts to the old contractors, arguing it needed time to make the changeover. Five years later, when the state supposedly switched to local groups, Patnaik's investigations revealed that three Mahila mandals had been awarded contracts for the state. The private companies leased by the mandals to produce take-home rations, he discovered, were owned by wives, daughters and sisters of the same mandals.

While the law manipulation continues across spectrum, Kasturi has given hope in the system. Her city Hardoi, then becomes an interesting epitome to the situation of malnutrition in the state. It is said that its actual name was ‘hari-drohi’ which means ‘anti-God’. According to Hindu mythology, ‘Hiranyakashyap’, a powerful king who did not believe in God ruled the place. He also forced the people of his kingdom to worship him. Prahlad, his son was an avid believer in God. Furious over Prahlad’s rebellion, he tried to kill him. Lord Vishnu, the caretaker of the universe, according to the Hindu religion, then took the form of Narsimha with the face of a lion and the body of a human being, and killed him. With the given scenario, Hardoi personifies ICDS, Hrinyakashyap the state government, the malnourished children, Prahalad and Narsimha the Supreme Court that is yet to decide its bodily form to intervene.

(This story is fifth in the six part series on malnutrition. It has been facilitated under the One World-POSHAN fellowship grant.) Others in the series:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Newsclick.

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