A social audit calls the ICDS scheme ‘a flagship adrift'

Describing the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme as “a flagship adrift”, a social audit of this programme has brought out glaring deficiencies in its functioning.

The deficiencies range from shortfalls in the enrolment of beneficiaries, quality of the nutrition provided, irregularities in monitoring the growth of the children and in immunisation, absence of convergence with related services, gross inadequacy of infrastructure, exploitative service conditions of the anganwadi workers, almost neglect of pre-school education, and most important social discrimination against dalits.

Initiated in 1971, the ICDS covers 200 million children in the age group 0-6 years. The social audit was conducted in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, covering 129 villages and 150 anganwadi centres, by the Council for Social Development, and has been compiled by former bureaucrat K.R.Venugopal. After several rounds of discussions on the primary data, it was unanimously agreed that shortcomings in the Anantapur district social audit were prevalent in the ICDS programme all over the country.

The ICDS is truly a flagship that is adrift. But it is indispensable for meeting all the needs of the children in this age group in a holistic manner. There is hardly any need of the children in this age group which is not built into this programme and hence it cannot afford to let this flagship continue to drift, the report says, while recommending converting anganwadi centers into crèches and involving the Panchayati Raj institutions for better implementation.

According to the audit, 40 per cent of the children in the age group of 0-3 years were not enrolled and 60 per cent of the anganwadi centres had no records of the number of children enrolled and the number children in that age group in the village. However, the audit showed hardly any worth while attendance in this age group of children at the centres considering the importance of early childhood care and stimulation for brain, cognitive, social and language development for this cohort.

In the age group of 3 to 6 year olds, 48 per cent of the children had not been enrolled while at two centres the enrolment numbers were inflated and much higher than the number of children in this age group in the area covered by these. As far as pregnant women are concerned, 38 per cent women were not enrolled in these centres, attributable to negligence on the part of the anganwadi workers including in regard to the conduct of the periodical house to house surveys.

Part of the problem is also the lack of understanding of the instructions in regard to accounting for, and registering, pregnant women visiting their paternal homes. In 15 per cent, pregnant women who were to go to their parent's house were not enrolled. Similar was the case with the nursing mothers, 29 per cent of whom were not enrolled.

More shockingly, in 62 per cent of the anganwadi centres supplementary nutrition was not being supplied regularly. Under-nourished children were identified in 31 per cent anganwadi centres of the 154 which were audited. In many a centres, such under-nourished children were ignored while in another 15 per cent no additional supplementary nutrition was provided. In addition, there were serious shortcomings in the anganwadi centres in regard to health check-up of pregnant and nursing mothers due to lack of diagnostic equipments, medicines and referral facilities, infrastructure and service conditions including low salaries.

The survey has suggested a salary of Rs 10,000 for the anganwadi workers and Rs 5,000 for helper. Regarding children with disability, the social audit report says that 36 per cent children with disability were identified of whom 15 per cent were referred to hospital but 29 per cent had no support. “This is another example of how the concept of inconclusiveness has not taken off in the programme,” it points out.

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