Jhabua: In tribal hamlets across Madhya Pradesh's Jhabua district, 43 children died in January alone, after going to bed hungry virtually every night.
Aanganwadis working in the area were meant to feed these children and even registered 152 children, four times its legal capacity. But it has failed them.
As we visit vasuniya phalia hamlet, workers tell us they are serving dalia because NDTV has come for a shoot. Truth is, food supplies have been erratic for months. Whatever little arrives is not enough for all the kids.
On paper, all children here under six years are part of the Aanganwadis, get two meals a day and go through health checks once a month. But in reality, four children who recently died were not registered with the Aanganwadi.
Six other children who died of diseases related to severe malnutrition were registered with the Aanganwadi but never diagnosed. Their records show the kids were perfectly healthy.
Three of these victims were Rewa's children - a daughter and two sons. "The workers hardly ever visit the Centre. We send the children at 8 am. Most days they return home by 12 noon hungry," he said.
In the Singrhia Phaliya hamlet, Kanta Panchaal is the Aanganwadi in-charge that has 52 children. Here too, the names of five kids who recently died, are missing from its rolls.
It can be considered a small error considering the Aanganwadi has no building, no health check-up equipment, and no kitchen to begin with. And the food supply is as erratic as the neighbourhood.
NDTV: Who serves them food every day?
Kanta Panchaal: Nobody. I distribute food packets to them once a week. We got rations in November and December. Since then very little has come.
In the Chhayan Phalia hamlet, three-year-old Ashish and one-year-old Praveen fight chronic hunger every day. Strangely, their names are not in the Aanganwadi list.
The Aanganwadi can register them, but there is no food to serve anyway.
NDTV: How long have you not served food?
Aanganwadi worker: Since the day before Holi.
NDTV: So the kids don't come every day?
Aanganwadi worker: But I come.
NDTV: Since you come, you mark all of them 'present' every day?
Aanganwadi worker: Ya, I do that.
Village after village, it's the same story. Targets are all met on the paper, but the ground reality is: Hungry children are desperately in need of a scheme that fails them each time.
In all the three Aanganwadis we visited in Jhabua, meals have been missing for months while the registers show 100 per cent attendance.
Match this with Jhabua's death register: Between November and January, 43 children have died in malnutrition-related ailments. Seven per cent of the infants here die before their first birthday. Who will account for this register?