Sahebganj, Jharkhand: Pinki Paharin, 9, hit national headlines in March this year when she went to hunt for rodents instead of eating a mid-day meal in her school in a tribal village in Chuha Pahar in Jharkhand. A photograph of her posing with a squirrel tail that she had hunted for a meal shocked the country and raised doubts about the tall claims being made about the world’s largest feeding programme – the mid-day meal scheme.
When asked what her meal of the day is, Pinki responds with a smile, “daal, anda aloo (egg and potatoes), khichdi.
When NDTV visited the school again to follow up the story, it was a Friday. While the menu said the children will be served eggs, they were found missing from their plates.
“We get eggs on Friday but there are no eggs today,” said Mangal Paharia, Pinki’s classmate.
While 54 students are enrolled in the school, on an average, only 20 turn up for the classes. Apart from the poor attendance, NDTV found that there was only one teacher available who was struggling to take combined classes of students from classes 1 to 8. Finding it unmanageable, the teacher said that he needs a helper at the school.
Shocked that in these times a girl was still hunting rodents for her meal, the village saw a flurry of VIP visits and tall promises were made to transform it and usher in fresh development.
The plight of the tribals prompted the government to sanction 12 new homes under the Pradhanmantri Awas Yojana. Three months later, these unfinished projects still await funds.
Even Rs1 lakh 20 thousand that has been sanctioned is not enough to build a house in this village which is situated atop the Rajmahal hills and the transportation cost of construction materials is more.
Other glaring concern in the village is the ASHA worker of the village who cannot read or write. ASHA worker Salomi Paharin’s husband Tinku Paharia said he paid Rs 20,000 as bribe to get her appointed.
Salomi has never got a single institutional delivery done and rarely takes children for immunisation.
She told NDTV that she hasn’t got a single ante-natal-care check-up done. When asked why all the records are empty, she draws a blank expression. Further prodded, she said that she has never taken children to the anganwadi centre which is barely a km away.
A visit to the anganwadi centre revealed that a ready-made meal was being given to the expecting mothers.
Mary Paharin who is seven months pregnant said, “There is no food here. I don’t like the packaged supplement that they give here for mothers.”
The nutritional packets for children too lie undistributed. Some of them have even expired and can only be thrown away.
“People don’t accept this food and don’t come to collect their packets,” said anganwadi worker Bisni Paharin.
Tribal rights activist Heera Paharia said that nearly 400 schools nestled in the mountains are shut. Public health is in an appalling state of apathy. “They have no healthcare. Most of these schools are shut,” he said.
The administration said they will look into why the government’s schemes are failing on the ground.
“We will look into this as to why services are not reaching the village,” said Shailesh Kumar Chaurasiya, Deputy Commissioner, Sahebganj.
Absence of roads, a trained health worker, medicines like iron folic acid tablets and a functional anganwadi centre clearly show the chronic systemic issues that plague this village. The administration’s standard response to any news emanating from this tribal village is a knee jerk reaction. Chuha pahar and other villages in the area need the government’s attention and urgent action yet again.