Taking a “sincere note” of the hunger and malnutrition report (HUNGaMA), released by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday that said 42 per cent of India’s children under-five were severely or moderately undernourished, Women and Child Development Minister Krishna Tirath said there was a need to redouble efforts, increase awareness and improve implementation of programmes and policies.

The proposed National Food Security Bill 2011 which seeks to provide adequate and appropriate food security, has specific entitlements for pregnant and lactating women and children below the age of 6 years, the Minister said while suggesting that the findings of Naandi Foundation required further validation.

Ms. Tirath, under whose Ministry the ambitious Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme is implemented, told reporters here that the scheme would be strengthened and restructured with focus on areas which have been identified as weak links in the nutrition and child development chain. She said the Ministry proposes an additional anganwadi worker would be given to each anganwadi centre in the 200 high burden districts.

Dr. Singh had described malnutrition as a national shame and said the government could not solely depend on the ICDS scheme for improving the nutritional status of children. The ICDS scheme provides supplementary nutrition, pre-school education, health, including immunisation, and development to children in the age group of 0-6 years and the HUNGaMA report had raised questions over its effectiveness.

“The Ministry has taken a view that the action in this regard has to be further accelerated and specific action plan with time bound objectives has to be in place,” she said while announcing a “firm resolve to reduce the malnourishment level in the children and women to satisfactory level.”

Drawing attention towards the decisions taken at the meeting of the Prime Minister’s National Council for India’s Nutrition Challenges in November 2010, Ms. Tirath said the government was already in the process of finalising a multi-sectoral programme to address the maternal and child malnutrition in selected 200 high burden districts. This would bring about convergence among the different sectors and provision of services.

On its part, the Planning Commission is monitoring the progress on this decision. Efforts are underway to bring nutrition focus into different sectors and for the management of severely malnourished children, protocols for prevention and treatment are being developed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Planning Commission. The nutritional data at the district level will be available through the Annual Health Survey in 284 districts carried out joint by the Health Ministry and the Registrar General of India.