More than 20,000 Anganwadi centres in Madhya Pradesh, mandated to take care of and support children, are on the verge of shutting down as they are unable to pay rent for the buildings in which the centres operate. The anganwadi centres, integral in taking care of children up to the age of 3, play a significant role in fighting malnourishment under the central government's Integrated Child Development Services or ICDS scheme.
Children who visited one such anganwadi centre in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur were forced to take their meals under a neem tree outside the centre.
A helpless aanganwaadi worker Rakhi Chauhan said the landlord had locked the centre as they were unable to pay the rent. Many of the state's anganwadi centres, including the one in Mandsaur, have been unable to pay the rent for eight months.
The state's 26,000 anganwadi centres have been facing the fund crunch since October last year, a time when the state was ruled by the Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led BJP government.
The Madhya Pradesh government allocates around Rs 62 crore annually to pay the rent of the anganwadi centres. However, the state government's finance department only released Rs 20 crore of the allocated funds, according to the state Women and Child Development Minister Imarti Devi.
"We need Rs 62 crores to pay the rent, out of which Rs 20 crores has been released by the finance department. We've written to finance department again for remaining sum and are hopeful for getting it soon to pay the outstanding rent," she said.
The centres have been forced to operate outside or have been confined to a single room.
Over 20,000 such centres don't have proper toilets, while 47,000 centres don't have kitchen facilities. Over 75,000 anganwadi centres lack basic seating arrangements. Over 64,000 centers don't have adequate provision of electricity.
In around 15 districts of the state over 1,100 posts of Anganwadi workers and 1,300 posts of Anganwadi women assistants are lying vacant, casting a shadow on the overall functioning of centers in those districts.
The BJP hit out at the Congress-led Kamal Nath government over the fund crunch.
"The government is not bothered. They won't understand the pain, simply because they were born with a silver spoon. They won't understand the sufferings of children getting food and education form Angawadi centers. Why can't a government having 1.5 lakh crore budget can spend 45 crore for poor kids," said former minister and BJP lawmaker Vishwa.