This Gujarat Model is worth replicating across the country
Other States can learn a thing or two about development from this Gujarat Model

Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi *

This is one aspect of the much-talked Gujarat Model that every state would do well to emulate – of an aspirational district of Narmada -- loosely translated meaning a backward and tribal district – which boasts of cemented roads deep inside villages, doorstep delivery of drinking water, electricity, pucca cemented houses, and all other visible signs of development.

In fact, its progress and growth parameters of tribal beneficiaries, women, and children, through collaborative programs of government and UNICEF to improve maternal nutrition, birth outcomes and child’s nutritional status appear to be bearing fruit.

As one discovers while traversing through the length and breadth of the tribal dominated district that sits on the banks of fifth largest river in the country Narmada it is named after. During this journey, it is difficult to come across a village that looks like a typical Indian village in a rural setting peopled by tribals.

The village youth here in the ‘backward’ region compete with their counterparts from anywhere else in India, what with their penchant for latest fashions that are very much evident when one sees the kids – many of whom sport ‘designer hair cuts’. The youth love their motorcycles and mobiles, like everywhere else.

Nestled next to the country’s largest dams – the famous Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada, villages in this south Gujarat region depend predominantly on agriculture, and now has become a tourist attraction after hosting the World’s tallest statue of Unity dedicated to the illustrious son of India, Sardar Vallabhai Patel who brought in many princely states into the union of India after we gained independence in 1947.

Over the years, this region too prospered, though comparatively slower than the other regions that make Gujarat the most industrialised and advanced states in the country and makes Gujaratis known the world over for their enterprise, industriousness, and business acumen. But what this aspirational district of the state, along with Dahod, lacks in terms of prosperity it makes up in efforts to make progress through developmental activities.

Which is why, developmental agencies and NGOs, find working in Gujarat both easy and challenging at the same time. Easy because of the bureaucracy’s approach and attitude, but difficult because the developmental agencies must do that much extra to find specific focus areas for development as most are covered under this or that government programmes. In Gujarat, the developmental agencies partner with Gujarat government on a host of initiatives aimed at strategies related to child survival that include WASH, Health, Nutrition and SBC.

As you traverse the region to visit villages that are relatively remote and inaccessible during monsoon flooding -- Gajargota, Nivalda and Kanbudi villages in Dediapada block and Pratapura and Nava Vaghpura of Nandod and Garudeshwar blocks – you will come across thriving Anganwadi centres that have become the nerve centres of guided nutrition programs to help children, their mothers and pregnant women and adolescent girls.

What makes these programs efficient is the skilful merger and marriage of initiatives like weaving in MANREGA with PURNA (Prevention of Undernutrition and Reduction of Nutritional Anaemia), Poshan Sudha in which one full, balanced, nutritious meal is given to young mothers and pregnant women besides free rations for a month. Here the Anganwadi workers integrate essential nutrition and health services –where the pregnant women and young mothers are given counselling on how to cook nutritious meals at home.

If you speak to some of the beneficiaries like 15-year-old Preeti D Vasava, one can find that her association with PURNA scheme, as a Saheli (Anganwadi worker) had made a whale of difference to her.

In just three months, her nutritional status and Haemoglobin levels, reported underweight and anaemic in June when she registered in June, shot up to healthy levels in just three months. Similar have been the experiences of pregnant women and their tiny tots who suffered medical issues due to malnutrition, were saved and today are healthy – due to the Poshan Sudha (for children between 0 years to 18 years).

What the various health and nutrition programs – Poshan Sudha Yojna (one full meal scheme), Doodh Sanjeevani Yojna, Early Childhood Development Project, Integrated Management of Severe Acute Malnutrition program (SAM), Mukhamantri Matrushakti Yojana, PURNA being undertaken with collaboration between government of Gujarat, UNICEF and other NGOs – have done is to make a real difference on the ground to the people who need it the most (women and children, often who are the victims of neglect).

What are the lessons for other States from the Gujarat Model?

It is one thing to run the programs, but an entirely different thing to monitor them to see they are being run efficiently and helping the targeted beneficiaries. Now in this area, there are lessons for the other states – as all the activities at Anganwadi centres can be monitored online, and every ounce of food, milk, vegetables that comes for beneficiaries can be tracked and accounted for.

Data is uploaded, almost in real time, enabling efficient monitoring of the programs, and progress or lack of it in individual cases of beneficiaries – children or pregnant mothers or adolescent girls. Their attendance, dietary habits, changes in any of the parameters are recorded to generate a wealth of useful data, that not only makes monitoring easy but also forms the basis for all future designing of the welfare and development programs.

Perhaps another significant aspect behind the success of these health and nutrition programs is the commitment and dedication of the Anganwadi workers, helpers and people associated with the programs. Like say of an Anganwadi program officer, government of Gujarat Women and Child development department, in charge for a district who supervises some 100 centres in the district.

Reasonably good salaries and permanent work nature are incentive enough for them to carry on with the tasks. Besides, they also know that their work was being overseen and monitored by a robust system that was nearly fool proof with enough checks and balances. This is another area where other states can learn a thing or two in running development programmes.

Where the schemes are making a difference in Gujarat is in a refreshing change in approach in getting fathers to support pregnant women, lactating mothers that requires effecting a change in the mindset of the people – needing awareness creation and training, done by trained development workers, government employees and contract volunteers.

Another challenge that was overcome is in bringing about a change in the thinking and actions of a mother-in-law, who are now more supportive and cooperative when it came to their daughters-in-law in food they eat and in how they rear the children.

One UNICEF sponsored and supported project – Early Childhood development with focus on first 1000 days approach, that is supporting a child from conception till the child is two years old -- is just what the doctor ordered, as the joint families of yore have crumbled to give away nuclear families and the young parents need all the support they need, in terms of advice and material too.

The success of these programs, I feel, is in making these seemingly staid programs interesting and immediately useful for the beneficiaries by the very design of these activities – like Mother Support Group (monthly meeting of mothers), Counselling to Mother in Laws, training fathers in parenting.

Imagine the kind of work being done by Anganwadi workers, helpers, and their program officers – from running programs and growing kitchen gardens, for adding nutrition to the food they serve to the women and children under their watch.

* Lakshmana Venkat Kuchi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country.
He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer and Hindustan Times.
He can be reached on kvlakshman(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on October 02 2022.

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