Govt. shows laxity in battle against malnutrition
The fourteenth Public Accounts Committee (2014-15) report, submitted to the 16th Lok Sabha in April this year, has found that despite various interim orders issued by the Supreme Court from time to time (based on a writ petition that was filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties in April, 2001), the Government of India has failed to universalize the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme.
This means India has to make long and sustained efforts so as to eradicate hunger and undernutrition, which includes inter alia universalizing the ICDS scheme and reenergizing the same to deliver and function well.
As per information availed from the Ministry of Women & Child Development by PAC, operationalization of 10 out of 7076 sanctioned projects and 33000 out of 13.75 lakh sanctioned Anganwadi Centres (AWCs)/ Mini-AWCs were pending as on 8 October, 2014 and the same Ministry was targeting to make 13,000 more AWCs functional by 31 March, 2015.
It can be mentioned here that the Supreme Court directed the Government of India in December 2006 to sanction and operationalize a minimum of 14 lakh AWCs by December 2008. Yet the performance of the Government to universalize the ICDS has been tardy.
The fourteenth PAC report (2014-15) on ICDS has been written under the chairmanship of Prof. KV Thomas, and is based on the Comptroller and Auditor General Report no. 22 of 2012-13 relating to the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Since the examination of ICDS could not be completed by the previous PAC (2013-14), which was headed by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, the subsequent PAC (2014-15) re-selected the subject for further examination.
Although the Government of India has approved Strengthening and Restructuring of ICDS Scheme in September 2012 with an overall budget allocation of Rs. 1,23,580 crore during the 12th Five Year Plan, which was rolled out during the period 2012-13 to 2014-15 in a phased manner, the Ministry of Women & Child Development is unlikely to achieve the target of covering 14 lakh habitations by AWCs in foreseeable future, mentions the PAC report.
Major findings of the PAC report
The three main reasons for non-operationalization of AWCs, which have been identified by the PAC report, are: court cases, financial processes involved and delay in recruitment of AWC workers and helpers.
As per information furnished by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, the number of vacant posts of Child Development Project Officers, Supervisors and AWC Workers were 3209, 19,831 and 1,14,368 respectively, as on 31 December, 2013. This has been a major hurdle for effective implementation of the ICDS scheme.
Despite the Supreme Court order dated 13 December 2006 to open up AWCs on a priority basis in Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) hamlets/ habitations, it has been found that only 19 states have reported compliance after 8 years of the order. The Ministry of Women & Child Development lacked pro-activeness on its part and kept waiting for all these years to gather this information from states, finds the PAC report.
No survey has been conducted so far by the Ministry of Women & Child Development or states/ UTs to assess whether all habitations, especially those inhabited by SC/ ST/ OBC/ Minority community have been covered under the ICDS scheme.
The Ministry of Women & Child Development has been found to be lacking information on the coverage of habitations under ICDS as the states were responsible to confirm whether all habitations had been covered under the scheme.
Earlier the Supreme Court specified that rural communities should be entitled to an Anganwadi on Demand (AOD), not later than 3 months from the date of demand in cases where a settlement has at least 40 children under 6 years of age but no AWC. Although the Ministry of Women and Child Development approved 20,000 additional AODs during the 3rd phase of ICDS scheme (October, 2008), the PAC report has found that only 2030 AODs were sanctioned for six states by the same Ministry in 2011-12. Delay in setting up of AODs defeats the very purpose of the concept, states the PAC report.
Out of all weighed children in AWCs, the percentage of normal children has increased from 49.9% as on 31 March, 2007 to 58.84% as on 31 March, 2011 and further to 71.62% as on 31 December, 2013, as per information provided by the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Final results of the Rapid Survey on Children covering 29 states/ UTs by UNICEF and Ministry of Women and Child Development are still awaited, says the PAC report.
In order to meet the improved nutritional norms, the cost norms (per beneficiary per day) of supplementary nutrition have been further revised to Rs. 6, Rs. 9 and Rs. 7 for normal children (6-72 months), malnourished children (6-72 months), and pregnant & lactating mothers, respectively under the restructured ICDS in the 12th Five Year Plan. The revised rates for supplementary nutrition for different category of beneficiaries were rolled out in a phased manner i.e. 200 high burden districts in 2012-13, 200 more districts in 2013-14 and rest of the districts in 2014-15.
As per the PAC report, the ICDS scheme operates through a network of 7067 fully operational projects and 13.42 lakh AWCs, as on March 2014. The services are currently being provided to 1045.08 lakh beneficiaries of which 849.40 lakh are children under 6 years of age and 195.68 lakh are pregnant & lactating mothers. Nearly 370.7 lakh children aged 3 to 6 years are provided pre-school education of which 188.19 lakh are boys and 182.51 lakh are girls.
It is worth mentioning that the ICDS scheme provides a package of 6 services i.e. supplementary nutrition, immunization, referral services, health check-up, pre-school non-formal education and health and nutrition education. Three out of six services namely, supplementary nutrition, pre-school education and nutrition & health education are delivered in an integrated fashion by the AWCs at the village level, each of which is run by an AWC worker and a helper. The other three services namely immunization, health check-up and referral services are delivered through Public Health Infrastructure under the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development issued guidelines for construction of AWCs in 2011, which said that an AWC must have separate sitting room for children/ women, separate kitchen, store for storing food items, child friendly toilets, separate space for children to play (indoor and outdoor activities) and safe drinking water facilities. However, based on the CAG report, the PAC report has noted with utter dismay that 866 out of 2701 test-checked AWCs were functioning from sites other than their own buildings or rented premises such as primary schools and had to function in open places when schools changed their timings; some were functioning in school verandahs, under trees and open places and a large number were found to be functioning in dilapidated/ incomplete buildings or kachcha structures. Further, separate space for cooking, storing food items and indoor and outdoor activities for children was not available in 40% to 65% of the test checked AWCs in different states. Non-availability of quality infrastructure affects the motivation on part of the parents to send their wards to the AWCs and also expose these children to the vagaries of the weather, says the report.
The PAC was disappointed to find from the CAG report that 52% of test checked AWCs did not toilets and 32% test checked AWCs had no drinking water.
The PAC report has observed that the Central Monitoring Unit (CMU) under the ICDS scheme failed to efficiently carry out assigned tasks, which included concurrent evaluation of the scheme, monitoring through the progress reports received from the states and impact assessment of the services under the supplementary nutrition and the pre-school education, based on outcome indicators, such as nutritional status of children.
Despite issuing of guidelines on 31 March 2011 by the Ministry of Women and Child Development to put in place a 5-tier monitoring and review mechanism for ICDS at the Central level upto the AWC level, and proposing of National level Monitoring and Review Cell (NLMRC) at the central level followed by similar committees at lower levels (i.e. state, district, block and AWC levels), convergence among various programmes/ departments at the state and the lower levels was found to be inadequate. The PAC report has made a number of observations: meetings of State level Coordination Committees were infrequent or not held at all; no records related to the meetings were kept; joint evaluation and field inspection were not carried out; minutes were not made available to the audit; delay was seen in constitution of committees; and low attendance of the officials was found.
It has been noticed by the PAC report that the Ministry of Women and Child Development and various state governments do not provide on their websites monthly data pertaining to Statements of Expenditure (SoE) giving inter alia the details of sanctioned and operational AWCs.
Role of ICDS in Food Security Act
It is worth noting that Section 4 (a) of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) says that every pregnant woman and lactating mother shall be entitled to a meal, free of charge, during pregnancy and six months after the child birth, through the local anganwadi, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II. Section 5(1)(a) of the NFSA says that children in the age group of six months to six years, shall receive age appropriate meal, free of charge, through the local anganwadi so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II. Similarly, Section 6 of the NFSA says that the State Government shall, through the local anganwadi, identify and provide meals, free of charge, to children who suffer from malnutrition, so as to meet the nutritional standards specified in Schedule II. Schedule II of the NFSA provides nutritional norms for children of various age groups, and pregnant women & lactating mothers, which are required to be met from “Take Home Rations” or nutritious hot cooked meal served at AWCs.
Following the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, the ICDS scheme is now running with changed sharing pattern of finance between the Centre and states. The budgetary allocation for ICDS has been trimmed by almost half from Rs. 18,488 crore in 2014-15 to Rs. 8,548.77 crore in 2015-16. However, it has been promised that if the Ministry of Finance is able to garner some additional resources during the year from tax buoyancy, then it will increase allocation to ICDS by Rs. 1,500 crore. The budgetary allocation to the Ministry of Women and Child Development too has been drastically cut down from Rs. 21,100 crore in 2014-15 to Rs. 10,286.73 crore in 2015-16. Following severe decrease in ICDS funding, it is difficult to expect universalization of the scheme in the future. Even the Minister of Women and Child Development Smt. Maneka Gandhi has expressed her concerns regarding quashed budgetary allocations.
The Government is using delay tactics in implementing the NFSA, allege civil society activists. Although the Food Security Act came into force on 5 July, 2013, and was to be fully implemented by 5 July 2014, the Government has issued three notifications (in June 2014, October 2014 and March 2015) for the extension of the deadline, thus, delaying implementation until September 2015. That is why the PUCL has asked the Supreme Court to intervene for the implementation of the NFSA 2013. It has also pleaded for finalization of the list of beneficiaries as per the Socio Economic Caste Census.
Public Accounts Committee (2014-15) report on Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme of Ministry of Women & Child Development, PAC no. 2045, Fourteenth Report (presented to Lok Sabha on 27 April, 2015 and Rajya Sabha on 28 April 2015), Please click here to access
Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Performance Audit of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, CAG Report no. 22 of 2012-13-Union Government (Ministry of Women and Child Development), please click here to access
Budgetary Allocations to Ministry of Women and Child Development 2015-16
Supreme Court Orders on the Right to Food: A Tool for Action, August, 2008, Right to Food Campaign Secretariat
PUCL plea in SC questions delay in implementation -Krishnadas Rajagopal, The Hindu, 31 May, 2015
Reduced budgetary allocations will affect programs for nutrition, women and child welfare: Maneka Gandhi to Niti Aayog, DNA, 20 May, 2015
Why is calorie intake rising? -Himanshu, Livemint.com, 13 May, 2015
Social Sector Spending in 2015-16, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol-L, No. 16, April 18, 2015
After 50% fund cut, Maneka Gandhi to ask Jaitley for more money for women & children, First Post, 20 March, 2015
Let Them Eat Schemes -Ruhi Kandhari, Tehelka Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 4, 24 January, 2015
Image Courtesy: UNDP India