Call of AIFAWH National Seminar on “Malnutrition in India and the ICDS as ‘Mission’

India , the ‘Republic of Hunger’ as she call it, has gone from bad to worse in hunger, and the fight to Save the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, which provides supplementary nutrition to nearly 10 crore beneficiaries is very important for the country’s future, said Prof. Utsa Patnaik. In a very simple language, she explained the plight of the people under the neoliberal policies to the audience who were mainly the anganawadi union leaders from different states. She said that their work in the anganwadis and their fight in the union is important for the future of the country.

She was giving the inaugural speech at the national Seminar on “Malnutrition in India and the ICDS as ‘Mission’” at BTR Bhawan, New Delhi. The seminar was organized on 6th January 2015 on the occasion of the Silver jubilee of All India Federation of Anganwadi workers and Helpers (AIFAWH).

The malnutrition in a country can be assessed by its demand for food grains, which includes both direct and indirect consumption. As per the United nations Food And Agricultural Organisation, in 2011, it is 1000 kg per year per person for USA, 500kg for Europe, 350kg for China, 225-300kg (average) for developing countries, 225kg (average) for Africa and 212kg(average) for the least developed countries. It is shocking that for India it is only 174kg per year per person.

This is not because we are not producing enough foodgrains. In 2013 and 2014 India exported 42 MT of foodgrains. This is the largest ever exports of food grains after independence and almost double that of the export done by the NDA government in 2003-2004 of 22 MT (which is mentioned in the book ‘The Republic of Hunger”). But all these statistics and issues never appear in the mainstream media.

The lack of purchasing power due to unemployment is the main fact behind the lack of demand. Most of the poor is out of the reach of the Public Distribution System after the government started targeting in PDS since 1997. She also ridiculed the official poverty line of Rs.27/- for rural and Rs.33/- for urban per person per day.
This scheme was started to improve the nutritional status of the next generation. Now after 40 years, the neoliberal policies had made things much challenging. The ICDS scheme which now serves nearly 10 crore beneficiaries, the budgetary allocation is so little, the infrastructure of the anganwadis are so poor and the condition of the workers is deplorable.

She said that it is very important to save the ICDS and called upon the activists to continue their struggles to save this scheme and to get their rights.

K Hemalata, Secretary CITU and Vice President AIFAWH, chaired the Seminar. She pointed out that it is the efforts of AIFAWH that such a militant federation to exist and grew for the last twenty five years. It goes to the credit of the trade union organisations under its leadership that the scheme itself sustained for such a long period of forty years. She said that AIFAWH always related its struggle to improve the working condition to the struggle for the rights of the people.

Dr. Reetika Khera, development economist and Professor, IIT Delhi, on her presentation, shared her experiences of the anganwadis at the grass root level during her studies. She shared the positive experiences of the anganwadi worker’s initiatives to improve the situation in anganwadis. She pointed out some issues like caste problems, corruption and non implementation of services to be taken up by the unions. She gave some suggestions to co ordinate with the media to highlight issues like privatisation to bring in more people to fight against that.

Dr.Vandana Prasad, noted child rights activist and convener of Jan Swasthay Abhiyan reiterated the importance of the unions in the fight not only to get the rights of the workers but to save such an important scheme and to improve it. She said that it is very important to keep in mind the role of the anganwadi workers and helpers as the activists for the right of the people than that of the implementers of the government scheme. It is the pressure by the people and the organisations such as AIFAWH and JSA along with others which resulted in the Right to Food Act, inclusion of ICDS in that and whatever little improvement in the infrastructure and nutrition component in it. Now we have to fight the intrusion of the multinationals through biscuits and packed food by the multinationals like Pepsi, Haldiram etc, she said. She said that it is very important to take people along with in the fight to improve the ICDS.

Savitri Roy, Co ordinator of Forum for Crèche and Childcare Service (FORCES) explained about their activities including an action research on ICDS and its findings. In a ‘model centre’ in Rajasthan there was no helper for the last six years! She said that it is very important to work together.

A R Sindhu, General Secretary AIFAWH said that the intention to have the seminar is to bring in different sections, academics, intellectuals and different organisations working in this area in the struggle to Save ICDS. The question is whether this is the right of the children and the people to have nutritious food, health and education or shall we leave it to the mercy of the corporate and corporate NGOs as their ‘charity’. She explained how the government through the ‘Mission mode’ is handing over the ICDS resources to the corporate, in different states. The Central Minster in the Modi government is asking the Pepsico chairperson to take over the food distribution in the schemes.

While the working condition of the workers and helpers are so bad that event the ‘honorarium’ is not paid for months together. In many places there is no supply of nutrition for months. Workers are given as many as 25-30 types of extra works that they do not have the time to do their own work. Moreover, they are asked to manipulate the records not to show the extent of malnutrition. She also explained the experiences of the AIFAWH of joint struggles at the ground level to improve the situation. She said that in this silver jubilee year AIFAWH will forge militant struggles to Save the ICDS and for the rights of the workers and helpers.

After a brief question answer session, the Seminar ended with a resolve to fight together to Save and improve the ICDS.

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