What is the Anganwadi Centre?
Anganwadi centers (Hindi for courtyard shelter) were started by the Indian government in 1975 as part of the Integrated Child Development Services program (ICDS) to combat child hunger and malnutrition.
However, it evolved to provide other basic services related to primary learning activities and health care such as contraceptive and counseling and supply, providing basic medicine, immunization, health check-up, referral services, nutrition, and health education, as well as non-formal pre-school education.
According to government data, presently the country has 13.77 lakh operational Anganwadi centers (AWCs) in India with a strength of 12.8 lakh workers and 11.6 lakh helpers.
During COVID Pandemic, Anganwadi workers assigned the responsibility of local-level surveillance in different parts of the country.
Why an urgent need for an overhaul?
Kasturirangan committee in its report pointed out that unless the imparting of education is methodically approached right from the toddler level it is near impossible to fix the curve of education as an individual advance in age. Anganwadi centers (AWCs) are the right place to do that but suffering from many issues requires urgent attention.
First is the issue faced by AWCs due to inadequate infrastructure. A fourth of the operational AWCs lack drinking water facilities and 36 per cent do not have toilets.
Second is problems related to ICDS services that AWCs are providing. Only a limited number of AWCs have facilities like crèche, and good quality recreational and learning facilities for pre-school education. ICDS beneficiaries do register for services but because the Anganwadis lack adequate facilities, they turn to paid options. Privately-run centers come at a price, hitting low-income families the harder.
Also, the learning approach followed at Anganwadi centers is obsolete and not suitable to develop the skills required at present. The present research has shown the significance of the playing-based learning approach with effective supplementary nutrition in the cognitive development of children which is not followed appropriately at Anganwadi centers (AWCs).
Third is the issues related to the capacity building of the Anganwadi workers (AWWs), ASHAs, and ANMs. Frontline workers still are not provided with better training and incentives like better career prospects, service conditions.
Fourth, AWCs are also lacking in availability of general services such as good quality meals, contraceptives and medicines, and regular health-related counseling.
Fifth, Anganwadi Workers all over the country are being treated like unskilled workers. Their monthly payment, which is very little compared to the Minimum Wage criterion, is not enough to meet their home expenses.
What needs to be done?
The government has recently launched the Saksham Anganwadi Scheme which aims to upgrade 2.5 lakh such centers across the country. But it is up to the states to make these initiatives successful. Following are the suggestions for making improvements to AWCs.
First, there is an urgent requirement for capacity building and infrastructure improvement of Anganwadi centers (AWCs). Following are suggestions for the same:
- Anganwadi workers(AWWs) must be provided with good initial training before being inducted into the centers. Apart from this, there should be provisions for regular training and sensitization programs for the workers to adapt to new developments.
- They need to be provided with better incentives like better monthly payments, good career prospects, and a conducive work environment.
- State governments need to pay special attention to this front as it is done by states like Kerala, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.
- The Centre must increase the number of workers at the AWCs
- There is a need to improve the sanitation and drinking water facilities along with the power supply.
- Anganwadi centres must be supplied with sufficient medicines and contraceptives.
- Recommendations by committees and think thanks like NITI Ayog needs to be incorporated in policies and schemes by the government.
Use of Technology
Technology can also be used for augmenting the service quality of AWCs.
- AWWs have been provided with smartphones and their supervisors with tablets, under government schemes to make good use of technology.
- Smart applications (Apps) must be developed for various purposes such as tracking the distribution of take-home rations and supplementary nutrition services. For example, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Anganwadi centers have been geotagged to improve service delivery.
Second, best practices from states need to be followed everywhere. For example;
- Nutri TASC tool developed by the Government of Andhra Pradesh does name-based tracking of registered beneficiaries under ICDS services which helps in their better monitoring.
Third, the government must take care of the community workers and honor their contribution in the fight against COVID-19 and undernutrition in the country. They must be treated as employees and skilled workers by paying adequate remuneration.
AWCs play an important role in improving basic child learning and health needs for the poor people and help the government to implement its various programs especially related to child and women development.
Thus, the good health of AWCs is the need of the hour. Steps like Saksham Abhiyan and technological up-gradation by states like Gujarat are positive steps but not sufficient considering issues AWCs are grappling with. Hence, the government must resolve the issues and improve the functioning of AWCs through better schemes and adhering to recommendations of think tanks like NITI AYOG.