Dysfunctional Anganwadi centres push parents to opt for private kindergartens

In an annual ASER report of 2018 and 2019, it is mentioned that in Manipur, only three percent of Anganwadi centres were working properly.

With many Anganwadi centres in a dysfunctional state, parents in Manipur have no option but to send their children to privately run crèches, fancy playschools and expensive kindergartens. With the dismal performance levels of the Anganwadi centres, parents think that sending their wards to private kindergartens would make the children acquire better knowledge that helps in their cognitive development.

Speaking to the Imphal Free Press, one of the parents in Khagempalli area, Tongbram Nandakishore (35)   informed that he first thought of sending his 18-month old son to the Anganwadi but after considering the depressing scenario of the centre, he started sending his son to a private kindergarten.

“Though kindergartens are run by private individuals and I have to pay hefty monthly fees, I think about the future of my child. Learning starts from early infancy and as the child grows, these private kindergartens are now playing a major role. These roles were earlier performed remarkably by the Anganwadi centress. However, things are different now”, said Nandakishore.

“During my childhood, Anganwadi centres used to function properly and most of the children of my age-group and peers all used to go to the centres. During those days, helpers of Anganwadi centres used to teach various lessons including other co-curricular activities. I think most of my peers of those days developed positive cognitive development,” he added.

Currently, most of the Anganwadi centres are becoming like the poorly run government schools that people used to neglect due to numerous reasons, pointed out Nandakishore. He opined that if the government and the concerned authorities emphasize on truly promoting Anganwadi ceneres, then these centres could bring a big change in society. “Parents who are under the poverty line are not able to send their children to privately run pre-kindergarten schools. If the government wants to bring a change in the education system, the change should first start from the grassroots level”, he asserted.

Mention maybe made that Anganwadi which means ‘courtyard shelter’ is a type of rural child care centre in India. It was started in the country in 1975 as a part of Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) with the aim to combat hunger and malnutrition related to children.

Apart from combating hunger and malnutrition, Anganwadi centres also aimed at providing basic healthcare including contraceptive counselling for parents, the supply of nutrition, spreading awareness to pregnant mothers and pre-schooling activities for the children starting from the age of three till they attained six.

As per the government report, Manipur has 9,948 Anganwadi centres and 1,552 mini Anganwadi centres. It is said that those centres that enrolled over 20 children are under the category of Anganwadi whereas those centres that could enrol less than 20 children are under the category of mini-Anganwadi. A total of 11,500 Anganwadi centres are being run across the state under the ICDS programme.

One of the Anganwadi helpers who did not want to be identified told Imphal Free Press, “I have been a helper of at a centre since the last 15 months and till date, I have not received by monthly honorariums. Government is supposed to provide foods to the children who are enrolled in the Anganwadi. However, I have to get the food items for children from my own expenses,” she rued.

The helper opined that if the monthly honorarium is provided in time, then it would be easy to get the food items for children. She said most of the workers and helpers who are engaged in Anganwadi centres have also started neglecting their duties. Most of them do not have an alternative income, so some of them skip their work without procuring food items under the programme, she pointed out.

At some public platform, and even in panel discussions, the director of state social welfare department had expressed the view that if society needs positive change, proper nutrition needed by the children have to be provided starting from the grassroots level, she said. Though the issue of providing food items to the children are occasionally settled, the difficulties encountered by the helpers, volunteers and workers are rarely addressed. “If the current problems of workers and helpers are not solved, in the next few years Anganwadi centres will be no longer be active in the state, she added.

The helper also urged the government to recruit appropriate number of Anganwadi workers and helpers as in some centres, there were lack of manpower.

Mention may be made that in the recent 10th session of eleventh Manipur Legislative Assembly session opposition bench brought up the issues of mismanagement of food grains provided under the Wheat Based Nutrition Programme (WBNP) of ICDS. In the session, the opposition bench demanded the House to let the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the matter. Chief minister N Biren who is the leader of the house informed that it was not possible to handover the case to the CBI without establishing some prima-facie cases and that the government could not rely on the allegations made by the news media. He however assured to investigate the matter through the state vigilance department.

In an annual ASER report of 2018 and 2019, it is mentioned that in Manipur, only three per cent of Anganwadi centres were working properly.

In an interaction with the Imphal Free Press, director of social welfare department Ng Uttam said his department will take necessary steps to monitor the Anganwadi centres with the help of information technology and informed that the process has already started.

He said the department has already detected about 2,600 Anganwadi centres that are suspected to be inactive. With the help of information technology-based monitoring, the department can easily find out the inactive centres, the director informed.

Anganwadi centres are established to provide proper nutrition to children in pre-schooling stage and other health sectors especially for children and pregnant mothers. The department is planning to establish a ‘model Anganwadi centre’ as a pilot project. Facilities of a model Anganwadi centre are already available at five government-run schools now. These schools are Singjamei Chingamakha High School, Moirangpurel High School, Heingang High School, SK Ideal High School and Praja High School.

Uttam said in the five schools, facilities of a model Anganwadi centers have already been provided but due to the current problems associated with COVID-19, children have stopped coming to these centres.

“Providing pre-schooling facility to children is much needed to bring a better society and as the state government is focusing to bring development and change in the education sector, the model Anganwadi centres will help a lot”, he added.

Responding to a query, Uttam said in some local dailies it was alleged that the three transporters engaged to provide food for the Anganwadi centres have misused the food items by selling them illegally in some retail shops. He said if proper evidence was provided, then immediate action will be taken.

Government had already handed over the case of mishandling of food grains to the state vigilance department. However, as per the report from superintendent of police, the vigilance department is yet to arrest anyone in connection with the case, said Uttam.

He also informed that being a central funded scheme, monthly honorariums of workers and helpers of Anganwadi centres are provided through consolidating the amount for six months or for one year. The department has already notified the lack of workers in some Anganwadi centres. It has started the recruitment process for Anganwadi workers to provide more facilities, he added.

First Published: July 19, 2020, 12:18 a.m.