One of the areas of key focus for this government needs to be the welfare of workers at the various Anganwadi Centres (AWC)s across India. Union Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi has said that as per the revised guidelines for Aganwadis, now 50 percent of vacancies in the posts of supervisors would be filled up by promotion from amongst Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) with 10 years of experience. This is a welcome move, as it instills enthusiasm and confidence in these workers who earlier saw promotion to be a dismal possibility. The move also boosts the morale of the other AWWs at various centers and in a way incentivises them to work diligently. The AWWs are the most important functionaries working at the grassroot level.
Meanwhile a core issue which affects each of the AWCs is that of health and sanitation at these centres. Citing startling figures, the Rapid Survey on Children (RSOC) which covered several households and AWCs was commissioned by the government in 2013-14, with technical support from UNICEF, India reported that “full ante-natal care (ANC) has been received by 19.7 percent pregnant women.” This clearly indicates that with a decline in proper healthcare being provided during pregnancy, there has been a sharp rise in cases of malnourished children being born in India.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1.3 million children die of malnutrition every year in India and fifty percent of children are underweight, forty-five percent have stunted growth and seventy five percent are anaemic. As per official figures the highest numbers of malnourished women in our country belong to the following states -- Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa. Although the government has taken up this issue with a slew of measures to increase the quality of ante-natal care and awareness in rural areas regarding the issue, a lot needs to be done to ensure health safety.
Meanwhile another significant issue is that of shortage of AWCs in India. The Ministries of WCD, Panchayati Raj and Rural Development are working cohesively to resolve this issue. In fact the government plans to establish four lakh AWCs in the coming four years. The current year has 50,000 AWCs being completed and after which the government will be constructing one lakh of these centres every year, in order to bridge the shortage of AWCs.
Currently there are nearly 14 lakh Aganwadis in India and nearly 40 percent of them do not have their own building and are being run from rented spaces. The 50,000 Aganwadis as per the scheme cleared last year in July will be completed this year by April-May. With the shortage of AWCs despite this effort the government decided to enhance the annual number to one lakh per annum.
The target will now be one lakh AWCs from 2016-17 - the coming financial year. Financial aid with be rendered from Panchayats and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) which have some resources, together being pooled into the scheme to build AWCs. Under WCD Ministry funds will be sanctioned under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) which will be used for AWCs. Ambitious, but once completed it will create a marked difference as an increase in AWCs will be a huge boost especially for women in the rural sector.
Yet another important aspect is adopting methods of modern technology at these AWCs. In fact each of the workers at the Aganwadi centres will be given tablets (by the government) in a phased manner which will help collect data on nutrition levels. These data will eventually be collected from each state and be stored Centrally. This move will facilitate the AWWs and help improve quality of their work. In the current year, nearly 10,000 AWWs will be equipped with tablets and the remaining will be covered in the next 18-20 months
With substantial reforms being implemented, the Aganwadis in the country are expected to have a completely new avatar, hopefully encompassing crucial areas of concern as well during the process.