West Bengal: ‘Unless all dues are cleared for eggs and vegetables, there will be no food served’
A crisis is brewing at the anganwadi centres across West Bengal where workers have threatened to stop serving meals from today to children, and pregnant and lactating mothers. Why? Details here.
Madhu Sudan Chatterjee 1 Sep 2023 2:23 PM GMT
Parents coming to leave their children at the Gopalnagar anganwadi today, were in for an unpleasant shock. Posters put up there announced that there would be no hot meal served to the children from 1 September onward.
Shopkeepers who supplied the eggs and vegetables to the centre located over 180 kilometres from the state capital Kolkata, had not been paid for months and they said unless their dues were cleared they would no longer supply the eggs and vegetables.
And this deadlock is not limited to a handful of anganwadi centres. A crisis is brewing across 119,481 anganwadi centres of West Bengal where workers were protesting for the past several days against nonpayment of food dues, and poor salaries to them. And the situation has reached a point where they are now refusing to serve hot meals to beneficiaries enrolled at the centres.
Under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme of the central government, children below the age of six years, and pregnant and lactating mothers are offered hot meals at anganwadi centres across the country. The beneficiaries are offered other benefits too.
Today, not just the children, many expectant mothers in West Bengal went back disappointed from the anganwadis as they did not receive their share of the meals.
“I get a boiled egg and a vegetable curry from the Gopalnagar anganwadi every day,” Pallabi Bag, who is pregnant, told Gaon Connection. Pallabi lives in Indas block of Jangalmahal, Bankura district, with her husband, Mathur Bag, an out-of-work farm laborer.
There are 567 ICDS centres in eastern Bankura district where children, expectant and lactating mothers were turned away without food. There were posters put up by the ICDS workers saying: “Unless all dues are cleared for eggs and vegetables, there will be no food supply”.
According to Indrani Mukherjee, secretary of the Paschimbanga ICDS Kormi Samity, Bankura, 8.5 million mothers and children receive this nutritious food at the 119,481 ICDS centres in West Bengal. “But we do not know for how much longer,” she told Gaon Connection. According to her Rs 357,000,000 was due for eggs and vegetables across West Bengal.
“The money that is provided by the government for the food served at the ICDS centres does not reflect the cost of food,” Ratna Sarkar, state president Paschimbanga ICDS Kormi Samity, leader of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) told Gaon Connection. If the dues are not cleared within a week, approximately 200,000 workers and helpers in the state will initiate a larger movement, she warned.
Anganwadi worker Anju Manoyara Begum, had a tough day. When three-year-olds Sujoy, Asmina Khatun, and Gour Bagdi took out their plates in anticipation of their usual meal, Indrani had to tell them there was going to be no food for them that day.
“I told them they had to go home and eat and they would start getting food here again in a few days,” the anganwadi worker at Notungram, Block one Bankura, told Gaon Connection.
Yesterday, August 31, the workers of ICDS had informed the Block Child Development Project Officers (CDPO) in Bardhaman about the closure of the kitchens. In some of the kitchens, cooking still continued today.
“It is for humanitarian reasons that we have continued to cook for mothers and children,” Sukla Sarkar, an anganwadi worker in Kalna Gate area of east Burdwan, told Gaon Connection.
“We informed many of the people that there would be no food available on Friday [September 1] but the mothers begged us not to stop, as their children would go hungry,” Sarkar said.
Moumita Das, the CDPO had also requested them to continue cooking, and assured them that the dues would arrive within seven days. So, the few workers at the anganwadi today cooked a khichdi without eggs and vegetables and served it to the beneficiary women and children.
Several centres in Sarenga, Raipur, Hirbandh, Simlapal and Ranibandh in Bankura, Jhargram and Purulia struggled today. ICDS workers and helpers made food with whatever rice and pulses they had.
“We had decided not to cook from September 1, and had even staged a dharna and submitted a petition on August 29, but the hungry faces of the children and the women, forced us to cook something,” Niyoti Saren, an anganwadi worker from Sarenga, told Gaon Connection.
Niyoti Saren was sceptical about the assurances of the dues being cleared within a week. “The project director did not even meet us on the day of the deputation. We are constantly being ignored and neglected by the state government,” she said.
According to anganwadi workers, post-pandemic, some items have been dropped from the menu of the ICDS centres, which is a threat to the health and well-being of the children and young mothers.
Jamuna Mahato, a worker from Ranibandh, Parveen Bibi from Natungram in Bankura Block 1, Sankari Das from Purulia, Kasturi Ray from Raina in East Burdwan, and several other ICDS workers complained that the additional food that was previously provided to malnourished children has now been discontinued. Children were given chhatu (a type of cereal) and bananas as snacks, but that has been halted, they said.
When questioned about why most of the anganwadi centres in the state have not been disbursing the allotted money for eggs and vegetables, a state official who preferred not to be named said that both the state and central governments contribute towards the ICDS programme. “There are issues on both sides, and efforts are being made to resolve them,” he said on condition of anonymity.