Community Participation to improve ICDS program in Bhalapind village, Punjab
The Anganwadi Centers (AWC) under ICDS scheme in Punjab has been providing nutritious meals to pre-primary children to address malnutrition and morbidity among 0-6 years. ICDS has basically been envisaged as a community based programme which depends on active Panchayat and community participation.
According to state reports, almost 9.5 lakh children and three lakh women are registered in these centres. In 2017, Punjab became the first state in India to start pre-primary classes in all its government primary schools. This move saw all the Anganwadi Centers shifting to the nearest Government schools. Though the move saw protests by the Anganwadi Workers (AWW), but it seemed essential for the Govt. to utilize its school funds and resources well and also increase enrolment in schools.
At village Bhalapind, Ajnala district, an issue related to abuse of Anganwadi Centres and Anganwadi Workers was addressed with the help of People’s Organisation- Mazdoor Adhikar Sangathan (MAS) and SEDP Amritsar. There are three Anganwadi Centres in the village which are located inside and being run from landowner’s houses since many years. This system has been followed since the land owners have the resources (property) for the establishment of the AWCs and are also financially and politically powerful in the village to influence important Gram Panchayat decisions.
Through further exploration by SEDP and MAS, it was found that the land owner’s daughters and sisters-in-law are Anganwadi Workers of these centers. Also The Anganwadi Helpers (AWHs) are being used as domestic workers in the land owner’s houses. Even after the marriage of their daughters, the land owners are running the centers under the same name and same place. Thus they have been stopping the shift of the AWCs to an authorized central location.
Post state Govt. decision to shift AWCs to nearest Govt. school, SEDP and MAS have been making efforts to talk with the authorities and relocate the centers to stop any exploitation and provide a safe place for children to learn and grow. An application was submitted to Dy. Commissioner’s office at Amritsar, which was accepted and forwarded to the Child Development Project Officer of Ajnala. Political interference and change in ruling party made the process difficult but after a struggle of one year, MAS and SEDP succeeded to shift the centers out of the land owner’s houses to the Government School campuses. The Anganwadi Helpers have also been supportive of this initiative.
The shifting of the Centers has brought in positive changes like timely monitoring of these centers by the Village Education Committee to check the quality of ration and food given to the children. The school teachers have also become diligent and are constructively helping children in their studies and learning. The food cooked in the school premises is also being checked by SEDP staff from time to time.
This struggle for bettering the education and well-being of the children was possible due to the community coming together to address the issue collectively and SEDP supporting them with knowledge base. Community`s active participation is the key to the success of a social and development programme which is aimed to bring about a change in the life of the people.