Finally, about a month ago, I was able to get such a meeting because of my mentor's intervention. At the meeting were present the State Secretary (W&CD), the State Director for Social Welfare (W&CD), and others. They looked at the proposal I'd submitted (which comprised more than a plan for a creche by the way. It was a comprehensive plan for a women's skill & entrepreneurship development centre which had spoken English training, digital literacy sessions, and childcare services provision built into it), and zoomed in onto the part about childcare, ignoring all else.
I was told: "There is a Central government scheme called the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme which is implemented by the Indian Council for Child Welfare. Unfortunately we have not created one creche under it, so this will be wonderful". I was glad of this verbal support so I decided to pursue this government collaboration.
After about two weeks, I was asked to get in touch with the Secretary of the State Council for Child Welfare (the state level counterpart to the above) since they were the ones implementing this scheme, not the W&CD Department. So I invited Mr. XYZ to our site. Mr. XYZ sat with us for 45 minutes, explaining to us the Creche scheme and all its regulatory ins and outs.
Here is what the Secretary of the Odisha State Council for Child Welfare said (paraphrased):
- "We got money from the Central Government to set up 150 creches. We were barely able to set up 50, so we returned the funds to the Centre"
- "You know the government.... it takes forever to get funds from them. See you can get funds from the Creche scheme, but it may take one whole year before you get the funds. Maybe even two, who knows?"
- "But you yourself are supported and set up by a big university. They can contribute. Why ask the government? See, you could contribute and set up a proper model for others to follow. You know, no one is doing good work with the creches"
- "Can you demonstrate the need? There are eligibility criteria to the scheme. Do a survey, let's see what happens..."
- "Why don't you read through the guidelines of the Rajiv Gandhi National Creche Scheme? Read it, do the survey, then get back to me. No problem, you can set up 2 creches if you want"
Whatever I may have thought about his words, his tone, his apathy and ineptitude, I followed up on this discussion. I sent my junior project staff member to do surveys to get a sense of the need and of the demand for a creche service. I read through the guidelines of the creche scheme. And here below is what I found.
The following tables demonstrate the funds earmarked for one creche under the National Creche Scheme; each creche is permitted a maximum of 25 children.
I have genuinely tried wrapping my head around the above numbers you see in the table and I still don't understand why anyone would bother to set up such a scheme if they've pretty much decided not to fund it. Is it so they can claim schemes during an election?
Let's break this down. They can give me Rs. 10,000 for setting up the creche, then Rs. 5000 every 5 years. Rs. 10,000 is equivalent to $163. There isn't a need to translate this paltry sum of money into any other currency; it's absurd in all of them. So under this scheme my entire seed capital for the first 5 years is an amount that will allow me to pay rent for one room for about 6-8 months in a small town in India. And for each 5 year phase, I'm expected to use as working capital (other than salary) an amount that will pay rent for about 3 months. THAT is the expectation.
Next, the Rs. 2000 a month for the creche worker. The minimum daily wage for an unskilled worker is about Rs. 120/day which translates to Rs. 3600/mo. Skilled vs. Unskilled is unclear, but in general, the daily wage at present is actually Rs. 150/day which translates to Rs. 4500/mo.
So I am expected to hire somebody to take care of educational, basic supervisory, and nutritional needs of children of the ultra poor, pay them less than half of what a basic construction worker / brick layer would get (and far below what a mason would get in that same construction example). This also translates to about Rs. 500 - Rs. 1000 less than what a domestic worker / housekeeper would charge in a small town in India for coming in about 5-6 days a week for 3-4 hours a day to clean, do the dishes, make the bed, do the general dusting and tidying etc. Did I mention that the creche was for children of ages 1-3 years? Yes, good luck to me getting mothers to leave their children with someone of the skill level this salary could hire.
Next, the Rs. 2.08 per day per child for supplementary "nutrition". Okay, here is a list of "real foods" that this money would buy for a child"
What foods Rs. 2.08 can buy in a small town in India:
- One small potato stuffed fried snack (aloo chop) from a street vendor
- Half a banana (a banana costs Rs. 4) or one mini banana (if available seasonally)
- Approx. 1 ounce of puffed rice
- About 10 roasted peanuts
- Half a boiled egg
Without government subsidy and without adequate salary for say 3-5 women who can procure subsidised raw material and cook cheap, healthy meals for children, I'm afraid the above list is more or less all I'll be able to afford for my creche kids on this budget.
But what cooperation, efficiency, planning or funds can I expect from a state government that was unable to pitch in efforts and money to create 150 creches (servicing just 3,750 children) in the entire length and breadth of the state?
As I said earlier, when I first read through these grant numbers, I shook my head in disbelief. For example, the only way I could make sense of the supplementary nutrition guideline was to think that the government was more interested in providing an artificial supplement to children to make up for nutritional deficiencies caused by inadequate calories combined with low quality food, than in providing a well rounded meal. Because artificial supplements (tablet or powder form) seem to me to be the only conceivable way of providing such low cost nutrition.
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[To be fair, it must be noted that provision of hot meals (rather than nutritional supplements) is already spelled out in the government's Anganwadi program under well established and relatively meritorious Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme.
To continue being fair it must be noted that the funds provided even under this scheme are similarly woefully inadequate. Not to mention the corruption around hiring food contractors for mid-day meals, the lack of oversight regarding food quality, and low pay for Anganwadi workers.
(1) Crores of rupees from budget for food for poor children siphoned off in Maharashtra (2012)
(2) Food supplements sold to livestock traders instead of being given to poor children (2012)
(3) Anganwadi workers protest privatisation of ICDS food provision for poor children (2012)
(4) 22 children die from poisoned mid day meals in Bihar (2013)
(5) Anganwadi workers strike for higher pay (2014)
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But of course, artificial supplements or processed food supplements can only be provided by large manufacturing companies; they're the only ones that could take advantage of any economies of scale and make a modicum of profit at this low price. All in all, does this Scheme imply the involvement of food processing contractors versus Self Help Groups (which latter are the ones who typically produce the Mid-Day Meals provided at Anganwadi Centres?
Interestingly - or rather, sadly - enough, just this past week I also finally had time to read the following article on the ICDS Scheme published in the publication Down to Earth. The article talks about the scam of food contracting in the children's food provision scheme, and how government kickbacks help secure government support and perpetuate this system.
The original idea: Combining Livelihoods with Social Welfare = Social Enterprise
At present, state governments are not allowed to contract out food production toward this scheme; all meals and supplements have to be produced and provided by women's cooperatives and self help groups.
The idea is to feed the children and build a source of livelihood for the local community's women at the same time; I believe this is a wonderfully designed scheme if only the wages for Anganwadi workers were to be raised. Especially because with some basic oversight, it can be expected that community women would feel a greater sense of responsibility toward local children such that the food would be of higher quality and not adulterated. This same could not be expected of a food manufacturer with a for-profit bottomline. Further, that food manufacturer would be unable to generate (as many) jobs for the local community as this scheme would.
But as with much else in India, even well planned social welfare schemes get perverted in the most saddening and frustrating of ways. The full article from Down to Earth on how the government is promoting packaged - not freshly cooked - food for children from poor families, can be found here. An excerpt is presented below: