On one hand, the state government tomtoms about Swachh Bharat-Nitol Goem Mission and on the other, several anganwadis have no basic facilities, such as toilets. In Ponda taluka, 73 of the 166 anganwadis have no toilets. It exposes the hollow claims of the government as anganwadis (crèches) are set up under the integrated children development scheme (ICDS) which is an important programme for welfare and development of children. Of the 166 anganwadis in the taluka, 16 are located in the Ponda municipal area, while others are spread across 19 village panchayats. What to speak of the anganwadis in rural areas, some of the anganwadis in the Ponda municipal area themselves do not have toilets. The children are compelled to answer calls of nature in the open. There are around 3,000 children enrolled in the anganwadis. As many as 90 anganwadis, or about 54 per cent, are functioning in rented premises. Some of the anganwadis have been functioning in the same places for years together without any basic facilities. Though the government set up anganwadis, it has failed to provide basic facilities to children for hygiene and cleanliness in their formative stage.
The state has 1,263 anganwadi centres, of which more than 450 are run from rented premises and around 750 in community halls and school premises provided by the government. The anganwadis have emerged as centres for implementation of various government schemes, besides being daycare centres for children, especially of the underprivileged parents. Apart from serving as nurseries they are used to distribute nutritious food to children and pregnant and lactating mothers. However, some of the crèches are small in size and much of the space is claimed by stock of food meant for distribution among children, rather than their care. The state government is aware of the lack of basic facilities like toilets and space in anganwadis but little has been done to improve the situation. The secretary, women and child development, J Ashok Kumar, while acknowledging the fact that many of the anganwadis were functioning in private premises, had announced last July that the government was in process of constructing anganwadis. However, there are no signs of activities in this direction.
Anganwadis appear to have been given an indifferent treatment by the government for a long time. Despite the fact that government is in the know about poor infrastructure, crammed and unhygienic spaces and inadequate lighting in most anganwadis, no corrective steps have been taken. One of the reasons is the very low grant for accommodation. The rent paid to the private parties where anganwadis are housed is low, with those in urban areas getting Rs 700 a month and those in rural areas getting a meagre Rs 200 a month. You cannot expect the landlords to provide facilities for such a low rent. In many cases there is no drinking water facility. Many of the centres are in urgent need of repairs but the owners refrain from undertaking any as they would have to spend much more than what they can hope to earn from rent. If the government is willing to pay higher rent they might get premises which provide enough space, drinking water and toilet facilities. The governments at the Centre and in the state have been talking so much about stopping open defecation. However, they are forcing small children going to anganwadis to do precisely that. Anganwadis are used as immunization centres for various immunization drives, such as polio. They should have proper facilities and must be tidy and clean. But ironically, they encourage poor hygiene and high risks to infections.
The children who are sent to anganwadis for care should not be made to suffer because they are children of voiceless poor parents. If we cannot provide proper facilities to the children we should shut down anganwadis, rather than continue for the sake of continuing. A childcare centre with awful lack of facilities opens children to more risks than they would face when they are handled by parents in their own ways. The government will never have funds to construct anganwadis with excellent facilities. They should work with rental spaces but should set standards for facilities. The government could work out a programme to help landlords provide basic facilities in the anganwadis in their premises. The integrated children development scheme is a centrally sponsored scheme with the Centre providing 90 per cent and the state 10 per cent of the funding. The state government needs to focus on quality improvement in anganwadis, rather than adding to their numbers.