Among the Sahariyas, India falls apart
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Among the Sahariyas, India falls apart

The Congress rules state and centre, but money set aside for Rajasthan's malnourished tribal children does not reach dysfunctional crèches and other urgent needs. Srinand Jha reports. See full coverage

india Updated: Mar 21, 2013 16:39 IST
Srinand Jha
Srinand Jha
Hindustan Times
Srinand Jha,Bagmati Sahariya,tracking hunger

Three-year-old Bagmati Sahariya lies listlessly on a string cot inside an unlit mud-and-thatched home in Baran district's Amrod village, 292km south of Rajasthan's capital Jaipur. When her father Janki Lal (36), a daily wage labourer, lifts her on his shoulder, her bony hands and legs dangle like a rag doll. She cannot crawl or walk.

"Approximately every 15 days, and for reasons we are unable to understand, she stops eating," says her mother Reena Sahariya, a 32-year-old daily wage worker.

Taking Bagmati to the government hospital at Shahabad 35km away is not an option, says Lal. "We lose out on our normal wage-earning time; just half the promised amount is paid to us (at the nutrition rehabilitation centres) and no improvement comes to the child's health. No use taking her to the hospital again."

Typically, under a state government welfare programme for the tribe, the parents of every malnourished Sahariya child brought to the nutrition rehabilitation centres for a 10-day treatment are paid Rs 100 as an incentive.

The Sahariyas are Rajasthan's poorest tribal community, and as the first part of this series revealed, the Rs 72 crore set aside for them between 2007 and 2012 is either unspent or spent on homes for officials or other infrastructure, when the tribe's needs are more basic.

In five tribal villages that Hindustan Times visited in Baran district-Amrod, Kasbathana, Laitherabaseli, Sanwara and Brahmpura Swas, all dominated by the Sahariyas-government-run creches, also known as anganwadis, were closed, dysfunctional or semi-functional. Anganwadi workers were either poorly trained or disinterested.

Watch story of malnutritioned Bagmati Sahariya Part 2

Each anganwadi nurse and compounder is responsible for six villages. At many of the creches in the five villages, several of them turn up about once in three months instead of the stipulated once every week.

These creches are run under the Centre's Integrated Child Development Services, or ICDS, the world's largest health and nutritional support scheme for children under six. The state of the Sahariyas represent a larger problem-the marginalization of tribals.

"Victims of poor governance, neglect and misguided policies, the tribals have largely remained poor, asset-less and illiterate," said N.C. Saxena, a member of the National Advisory Council (NAC), which sets the social agenda for the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre.

The worst placed among them are primitive tribal groups such as the Sahariyas.

The number of tribal people categorised as being below the poverty line increased from 14.8% in 1993-94 to 17.5% in 1999-2000, according to Census 2001. In Rajasthan, this share increased from 28.8% to 36.5% over the same period. Corresponding statistics for the 2011 Census have not been declared.

Just 47.1% of India's tribals are literate (the country's average literacy level is 65.38%) and 55.9% of them are malnourished (the India average is 47%). Tribals make up less than 9% of the population but 55% of those displaced by dams, factories, mines and roads.

How the state fails in Baran
In Baran, the arid, unirrigated landscape of what once used to be dense forests is littered with abandoned school buildings, closed for want of teachers.

In the five villages, scores of tribal people have not been issued ration cards that would show them as belonging to the below poverty line (BPL) category and make them eligible for subsidized food. Many of them do not have job cards either to register themselves for work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), a Central scheme that promises 100 days of employment to every poor rural household.

Without jobs, money for food is scarce.

Malnutrition levels among Sahariya children of up to three years are as high as 66.3%, according to a survey last year sponsored by Action Aid India, a non-profit body, raising questions about the chances of survival for children such as Bagmati.

Those numbers compare with an average malnutrition level of 54% for Rajasthan for the same age group and 47% for all of India, according to official data.

Over the past decade, the Centre has pumped in about Rs 54,791 crore to run the ICDS scheme across the country. But the average malnutrition level of children up to age six in Rajasthan has remained static at the 1992-93 mark in terms of height and weight against age, according to the Rajasthan Human Development Report of 2008.

Tribal dominated Baran figures prominently as a "hot spot" in the list of 22 Rajasthan districts (comprising 65% of the state) that have been designated as being "food insecure" in a 2010 report jointly prepared by the United Nations World Food Program and the Institute of Human Development.

Three-year-old Abhishek, who is malnourished, with his father in Rajasthan's Baran district

Lots of money, but where?
In 2011-12, Rs 9,294.19 crore will be spent on the 36-year-old ICDS, the Indian government's longest running programme on child health, but little of this is evident in Baran or in the great swathes of Rajasthan.

The state government's expenditure per child went up from Rs130 in 2007-08 to Rs196 in 2009-10. In effect, the state's expense per child per day went up from 35 paisa in 2007-08 to 53 paisa in 2009-10.

The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the hunger scenario at Baran, has emphasised that the Rajasthan government increase this allocation to at least Re1 per child.

If that happens, Bagmati's parents may begin to find it worthwhile to take her to the village anganwadi centre. At Amrod, as at many of the Sahariya-dominated villages, the tribal people complain the food supplements meant for them are usually exhausted when they take their children to the centres.

The outcome of such skewed budgetary planning is obvious. Of the 21,049 children identified for the supplementary nutrition programme in Baran district's Kishangarh block last year, benefits reached only 13,997, according to a survey conducted by the Centre for Budget Governance and Accountability, a Delhi-based body.

Powerless empowerment
Swatting mosquitoes as she sits on a plastic chair outside her mud-house in Kasbathana village, Gajri Bai Saharia, the panchayat chief of Shahabad block, complains about her powerlessness.

"They (state government officials) do call me for meetings but never give me an account of the money spent on development," she says. "I do not even have the powers to get the hand pump outside my house to throw up water."

On paper, the Rajasthan government has empowered the Panchayats to implement schemes of five departments-health, social welfare, education, women and child development, and public health engineering.

But the state government is yet to fully implement the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, which provides for people's control over community resources and a central role to the gram sabhas, or village general bodies.

Subjects not integrated with the Act in Rajasthan include land acquisition, excise, and the forest produce and agri-produce market. States including Madhya Pradesh and Chhatisgarh have a better compliance record, official documents show.

(The "Tracking Hunger" series is a nationwide effort to track, investigate and report India's struggle against hunger and malnutrition. This special report on malnutrition is the result of a fellowship jointly awarded by Save The Children and Hindustan Times. To know more about Save the

Read first part of this series: Tribals hungry as Congress-ruled Centre, Rajasthan squabble

See Tracking Hunger full coverage

First Published: Nov 04, 2011 00:03 IST