Lucknow: "I am four months pregnant. I should get dry rations from the anganwadi every month. But this time I got ration just once in two months. How will I manage?" Roshni Rawat, 27, who lives in Habibpur village in Lucknow, told IndiaSpend in June. Roshni has two children, a four-year-old and a one-year-old who is severely malnourished.

To tackle widespread malnutrition, dry rations are distributed in Uttar Pradesh through its 189,000 anganwadi centres. Known as anupurak pushtahar or supplementary nutrition, these are provided to children between the ages of six months and six years, pregnant and lactating women, malnourished children, and adolescent girls between the ages of 11 and 16 years. This is part of the Integrated Child Development Services, which provides education and health services for children and mothers.

Rawat is herself entitled to get 1.5 kg of wheat daliya, 1 kg rice, 1 kg chana dal (split chickpeas) and 500 ml cooking oil from the anganwadi every month. However, after April, Rawat got these rations in June.

Severely malnourished children should get 600 calories and 20-25 grams of protein every day, as per the Uttar Pradesh Bal Vikas Seva Evam Pushtahar Vibhag (UP BVSEPV) guidelines. However, it would be difficult to meet these standards if the beneficiaries are not getting rations regularly.

Across the country, only 11% of children in the age group of 6-23 months were getting a "minimum acceptable diet"--a combination of dietary diversity and minimum meal frequency--as per the fifth National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted during 2019-21. In Uttar Pradesh, only 6% of children were getting a minimum acceptable diet.

However, in many districts of Uttar Pradesh--where 39% of children under five years are short for their age, and 32% are underweight for their age--the quantity of rations anganwadis receive falls short for the number of beneficiaries registered at the centres, anganwadi workers in several districts told IndiaSpend.

Beneficiaries suffer due to insufficient rations

Eight months back, 23-year-old Roma Yadav gave birth to a baby, Shrishti, in Habibpur village in Lucknow. When she was born, Shrishti weighed just 1.5 kg--considered low birth weight, according to the World Health Organization criteria (less than 2.5 kg at birth). Hence, the anganwadi worker in the village put her in the 'severely malnourished' category, and as per norms, six months hence, Shrishti should have started getting 1.5 kg wheat daliya, 1.5 kg rice, 2 kg split chickpeas and 500 ml cooking oil.

Roma Yadav of Habibpur village, Lucknow with her daughter.

"We have received rations just once in two months," Yadav told IndiaSpend. "The anganwadi worker says they are getting less rations for distribution. God knows what the truth is."

Ration distribution a challenge for anganwadi workers

Anganwadi workers say they are receiving lower quantities of dry rations. Therefore, they have to choose how to distribute it among the beneficiaries, and often have to deal with the ire of villagers.

"People unfairly blame us and say that we are siphoning rations meant for them. That's not true. We distribute all the rations we get," said Urmila Maurya, an anganwadi worker in Lucknow's Habibpur village.

"I got rations for 66 people in May. There are 100 beneficiaries under me. These include 74 children between the ages of six months and three years, 22 pregnant and lactating women and four severely malnourished children. Whom do we give the rations to?"

In order to distribute rations among all the anganwadi beneficiaries, Urmila distributed the rations for May and June together. By doing this, she ensured that all families still received some rations. When the beneficiaries questioned her on the quantity, she told them that she got less ration for distribution.

Like Urmila, Geeta Pandey, an anganwadi worker in Chitauni village in Gorakhpur, also has to distribute less rations than due to people. She receives rations for about half of the beneficiaries--or six of 12 pregnant women, 30 of 60 children who are six months to three years, and for 16 of 48 children who are three years to six years.

"We have to face many difficulties. We have to pick and choose and distribute rations among pregnant women," Pandey said. "Every time, we have to tell them that we receive less rations from the government."

Problems with beneficiary data entry

At UP's over 180,000 anganwadis, nearly 15 million beneficiaries received dry rations through these anganwadi centres in July 2021, as per data provided to IndiaSpend by the Uttar Pradesh Bal Vikas Seva Evam Pushtahar Vibhag. This number keeps fluctuating, and so every three months, new beneficiaries are added and the names of those who are ineligible are removed from the list.

Supplementary nutrition to be distributed from the Anganwadi Center.

"There are enough rations. Every three months, we take stock of the situation and provide the list of beneficiaries to our suppliers," said Sarika Mohan, director of the UP BVSEPV. "We have noticed that some district programme officers are not taking the data entry work seriously, which is why we are facing this issue." She said they have written to the districts and asked programme officers to update the monthly progress report. But despite repeated requests, some district programme officers do not do so, she said, blaming these old records for the problem.

Beneficiaries are still waiting for poshahar units

Earlier, children used to get a mixture of grains at anganwadi centres, called panjiri. But because of irregularities in procurement and distribution, in September 2020, the UP BVSEPV reportedly ended the 29-year-old monopoly of the companies that would distribute this panjiri and decided to distribute dry rations with the help of women from self-help groups.

As per this new arrangement, it was decided to set up poshahar units in different districts, which would prepare daliya and distribute it to the anganwadis. Until these would be set up, the government said it would distribute dry rations through anganwadis.

However, poshahar units are still under construction. The Uttar Pradesh State Livelihood Mission was to set up 204 units in 43 districts. IndiaSpend had reported in September 2021 that after one year of the announcement of the scheme, only two units had been set up, under the UN World Food Programme.

Sarika Mohan, the director of the UP BVSEPV, had then told us in September 2021 that poshahar distribution in 43 districts would begin in three to four months. However, when we contacted her in July 2022, she said the Uttar Pradesh State Rural Livelihood Mission (UPSRLM) was responsible for activating the Poshahar Units. As per the information provided, 34 units were set to be operational by June end.

Adeel Abbas, who heads the Poshahar unit programme of UPSRLM, told IndiaSpend in July 2022: "Thirty four poshahar units are ready. They will be operational in a month. Presently, we are in the process of procuring ration and providing training to women" .

(A version of this article first appeared in IndiaSpend Hindi in June 2022.)

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