The benefits of government schemes for the underprivileged will fructify into true development only when beneficiary communities are empowered to drive the change. Population First’s (an NGO working on population and health issues) experience at the tribal village of Khosta proves the point and also that the need for empowering communities and strengthening ground-level institutions cannot be ignored
The story of Khosta, a remote tribal village, is an example of what communities can do to bring about change in the quality of service delivery at the grassroots level.
Khosta falls under Shahapur Block of Thane District in Maharashtra, and records a high incidence of malnutrition among the children. Yet, there was no response from the service providers or the Grameeṇ Arogya Poshan Swachhata Ani Pani Puravatha Samiti, which is supposed look into health, nutrition, sanitation and water issues in the village. The anganwadi (rural mother and child care centre) was almost defunct, with hardly any services being provided.
“I have been a member of gram panchayat for 15 years, I have tried to reconstitute the NRHM committee many times but the anganwadi worker did not cooperate. But with the intervention of Population First, we got the support of the people and we were able to form a new committee.”
Baliram Kisan Thakare, gram panchayat member
During the micro-planning activity in Khosta, it was revealed that the anganwadi worker was arrogant, abusive and unresponsive to parents’ queries regarding the functioning of the anganwadi centre. A little probing by NGO People First revealed that the chairperson of the committee, the sole signatory for cheques, had died five or six years ago and no money had been withdrawn thereafter from the bank for any activities. The anganwadi worker was irregular in operating the centre and did not register any child as malnourished. Further, no early childhood education (ECE) activities were being conducted.
This was brought to the notice of the gram panchayat by the community members and a new committee was formed. The new committee members were taken to Savroli Village, where Population First’s field intervention team AMCHI (Action of Mobilization of Community Health Initiatives) is working on child mal-nutrition issues with community participation.
Immediately after returning from the exposure visit, a meeting was held with parents regarding malnutrition among children. Since no child was registered as malnourished, a public weighing of the children was done.
A total of 25 children were found to be malnourished, 12 in severe acute malnutrition (SAM) grade and 13 in moderate acute malnutrition (MAM) grade. Seven severely malnourished children were taken to the sub-divisional hospital in Shahapur for treatment. Three others were advised hospitalisation.
“We did not know that so many of our children are malnourished. The anganwadi worker had not informed us of this. We did not know that free treatment is available at the sub-divisional hospital and that the poor parents of children get Rs 1650 as wage compensation for 14 days of hospital admission. Had we known this, the poor of the village would have definitely availed of the facility.”
Jannardan Sukrea Mahale, gram panchayat member
The AMCHI team inform-ed the community and the committee members about the Amrut Aahar Yojana where additional nutrition is given to children, pregnant and lactating women in the form of a banana or an egg four days a week. The committee members enquired with the anganwadi worker regarding the scheme and, ultimately, she admitted to misappropriation of the allotted funds.
It was established that her reports on distributing the nutritious ladoos and chivda to children every morning were absolutely false. After the matter was escalated to her supervisor, the anganwadi worker has been carrying out her duties properly.
The remoteness of the village, lack of supervision by the village elders and the committee, lack of awareness and involvement of parents in the functioning of the anganwadi centre, apathy of the gram Panchayat and poor monitoring by department supervisors are responsible for the total failure of the nutrition programme at the village level, putting the survival of many children at risk. This is in spite of the funding, institutions, and personnel being available at the village level.
(A.L. Sharada is director, Population First. Sangita Tribhuwan is programme manager, AMCHI.)