WADA: "Not bad, I could eat this," said Jay Panda, Biju Janata Dal MP from Orissa, sampling a spoonful of the lapshi (porridge). "Does it need some more jaggery?" NCP MP from Maharashtra Supriya Sule asked Sachin Pilot, Congress MP from Rajasthan, as 30 pairs of eyes watched them with unabashed curiosity.
On the second leg of their field visits to study malnutrition, four of the country’s youngest MPs — BJP MP from Bihar Shahnawaz Hussain soon joined them — and all members of the Citizens’ Alliance Against Malnutrition visited three anganwadis in Thane’s district’s tribal area of Wada and found cause for both concern and hope.
The group will tour badly-hit districts in states governed by both United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and opposition parties so as to stay true to their intention of the programme staying apolitical. "We are not here on a fault-finding mission. We are here to observe the best practices in each states, identify loopholes and then make our recommendations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh," Pilot said.
Despite the fact that news of the impending visit had long reached the first two villages, the loopholes were definitely visible. At the anganwadi at Nandgaon, anganwadi sevika Kavita Patil had maintained neat and up-to-date records of the ages and weights of the 87 children in the age group of 0-6 month by month. But, when paediatrician Samir Dalwai — who was accompanying the group — asked Patil to bring in a child so that he could verify the figures, the cracks in the system were exposed.
When Dalwai sat two-year-old Hrithik Marle in the weighing harness and suspended it from the hook attached to a scale, it showed he weighed 9.5 kg; the records maintained he was 11.5 kg. So Was Patil fudging the figures? It turned out that the floor-scales that Patil was using were wrongly calibrated and she was reminded that, according to Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) norms, she should have been using the hook-scale.
The positives were just as glaring for the MPs. At Dabcheri, anganwadi sevika Shobha Gadak explained in clear terms to the MPs how she determined if a child was malnourished, showing them the ages and weights that she had plotted neatly on a graph. "Anganwadi sevikas get all the flak when something goes wrong. But they get none of the credit even though they are the most important links in the chain," said Sule.
The extent of malnutrition in Wada was significantly lower than that in Madhya Pradesh where the team last went, grade-I and grade-II (mild and moderate) malnutrition were rampant in these tribal villages, just two hours from Thane. At Dabcheri, 48 of the 114 children registered with the anganwadi had grade-I malnutrition and 43 grade-II.
Interestingly, all three anganwadis visited listed only one child as having grade-III malnutrition and, in all three, the child could not be located.