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WB: Anganwadi Centres Struggle as Funds for Child Nutrition Withheld Since June

ICDS workers, who have been borrowing to buy eggs and vegetables, plan a protest on August 29 for release of dues.

Representation Image.

Kolkata: The West Bengal government has stopped allocating funds for egg and vegetable meant for providing meals to children in anganwadi centres since June, as per allegations made in a complaint registered by some anganwadi workers. The workers claimed they have been borrowing money to feed the children.

After various representations and meetings  yielded no response from the state administration, the workers have called for a demonstration on August 29 at the Women and Child Welfare Department of Salt Lake to demand the outstanding amount.

According to a report in a Bengali daily, Anganwadi workers alleged that they had not received allocations for eggs and vegetables since last June, despite repeated letters to the state child welfare department. The workers claimed they bought the eggs and vegetables for the children from money borrowed from the market. But this is not possible any longer. The report said that the anganwadi workers had decided to stop cooking eggs and vegetables for children and pregnant mothers from September 1.

When asked, an ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) workers' association leader confirmed to People’s Reporter that, "There are about 120,000 anganwadi centres in the state. From June to August, none of the centres received money for eggs and vegetables. Allotments to the poor, tribal-intensive Simlipal project in Bankura and four projects in Nadia districts have been stopped since May. So, we have decided not to buy eggs and vegetables at our own expense starting September 1.”

Sheela Mandal, state president of the West Bengal State ICDS Workers' Association, also alleged that they had been deprived in other ways besides the stoppage of allotment. She alleged that in January 2021, the Central government had allocated funds for the purchase of smartphones for anganwadi workers of the state along with the entire country. Even after two and a half years, no anganwadi worker in the state has received the money for phones. On the other side, the Women and Child Welfare department officials bought phones at their own expense, downloaded the Centre’s 'Poshan' app, and registered the names of mothers and children under the centre, she added.

She also alleged that ICDS workers who could not afford smartphones could not upload data and were temporarily suspended.

Indrani Mukherjee, a leader of the ICDS workers' organisation, complained, "One remote area of Bankura is Ranibandh. How will ICDS workers get smartphones? They do not even get a basic phone in poor neighbourhoods. Due to the 100-day work (MGNREGA) stoppage, there was no opportunity to earn money. As many as 21 anganwadi workers in that area were suspended by the government. But it was forced to withdraw the suspension after our agitation."

Anganwadi worker Anurupa Sharma told People’s Reporter, "The Central government had allocated money to buy smartphones for us two years ago. But no money has been paid yet. We get a salary of Rs. 8,200/month, and we are told to buy a phone for Rs 12,000? We need a wage board. We demand permanence. We have bought food for the last three months with our own money. But now we have no choice."

According to a source in the administration, the state has stopped distributing Central funds for anganwadis not sending the correct information. Without more details, none of the administration members was ready to speak on this.

About 85 lakh children in the state depend on ICDS centres for nutrition. However, the state government has stopped the allocation since the past three months.  This was condemned by Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Mohd Salim, who said, "The state government has announced Rs 301 crore as Durga Puja grant. However, the money allocated for eggs and vegetables for 85 lakh children dependent on ICDS centres in the state has been frozen for three months. Repeated letters to the Child Welfare Department did not help. The Chief Minister has no idea about this matter. On August 22, she announced a donation of Rs. 70,000 per puja committee for the 42,000 Durga Puja committees of the state.”

According to workers, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, children are supposed to be provided full boiled eggs in all anganwadi centres. For that, the allocated amount is Rs 6.5 per child per day. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, vegetables are served with half an egg. Each child is allocated Rs 4 for eggs and Re 1 for vegetables for these three days. The allocation for six days for pregnant mothers is slightly higher.

Anganwadi workers said they had met the state Women and Child Welfare Minister Shashi Panja twice, requesting payment of dues for eggs and vegetables. They met the top officer of the ICDS project four times, but got no response from anywhere.

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