In face of intense on-ground scrutiny by a high-level fact-finding team of the Supreme Court that visited the nondescript Ganne village, 45 km east of Allahabad, to gauge the extent of malnutrition among children, the operation cover up of the district administration fell flat here on Tuesday.
What emerged was a situation, in words of the visiting team, “worse than Bundelkhand” — as presented by Hindustan Times in its report, ‘Not enough food, so children learn to eat mud’ (April 5).
As the two-member team comprising of noted social activist Arundhati Dhuru and noted development economist Jean Dreze reached the village on Tuesday, the residents were found huddled in a corner with a couple of district officials ‘coaching’ them what to say before the team.
However, their efforts went in vain as each villager complained — from giving bribes the gram pradhan for getting the Below Poverty Line cards made to availing widow pension.
The team also ordered on-the-spot medical examination of children reported by Hindustan Times to be suffering from malnutrition. The examination of 88 children revealed that 90 per cent of them were suffering from grade III (severe) form of malnutrition.
The complaints ranged from non-availability of ration from the fair price shop to government doctors having not visited the village for over a decade.
Villagers also informed of the school being located at around 5 km from the village, making it difficult for the children to attend it. Also, 21 widows in the village, having widow pension accounts, complained of not receiving their pensions.
Shocked, the team members ordered the district administration to present the details of job cards made and work provided to villagers under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) , besides growth monitoring charts of children maintained at different anganbadi kendras.
After its five-hour visit to the village, the team members met District Magistrate Sanjay Prasad, who reluctantly accepted that malnutrition and poverty were rampant in the area.
According to Dhuru, Prasad also conceded the district administration’s lapses in implementing government welfare schemes like NREGS and the public distribution system.
The team advised the establishment of an ‘Acute Malnutrition Centre’ as providing food under the mid-day meal scheme and the Integrated Child Development Services were not enough to address the extent of malnutrition in the area.
SC questions Wadhwa panel
The Supreme Court on Wednesday questioned the Wadhwa Committee’s authority to define poverty and the benchmark for the Below Poverty Line (BPL), saying it was a policy matter to be dealt with by the government.
It said the committee’s mandate was limited to suggest improvement in the public distribution system and measures to check corruption to ensure that it reached the targeted beneficiaries.
The committee headed by Justice D.P. Wadhwa, a former Supreme Court judge, last month recommended that every Indian with an income below Rs100 a day be considered poor, be eligible for official subsidies, including 35kg of food grain per family.