A massive nutrition portal developed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), which is used by the Centre as well as most States, and touted as the world’s biggest nutrition system, to record and monitor delivery of services to children and mothers across nearly seven lakh anganwadis has been down for nearly three months, several State governments have confirmed.
The snag comes as a setback at a time there is a call for the need to intensify efforts to identify mothers and children in need of nutritional interventions due to rising levels of hunger and poverty. The software was developed under the Poshan Abhiyaan approved by the Cabinet in 2017 with a three-year budget of ₹9,000 crore, half of which was for ICT-based real-time monitoring system. While 50% of the amount is funded by the government budgetary support, the remaining 50% is a loan from the World Bank.
“The ICDS-CAS server is down and we have written to the Central government to rectify it. It has been down for almost two months and we have requested for it to be rectified. But we continue to deliver dry rations to the beneficiaries,” Kavitha Ramu, ICDS chief for Tamil Nadu told The Hindu .
POSHAN Abhiyaan’s Integrated Child Development Services Common Application Software (ICDS-CAS) is an innovative web and mobile-phone based application to improve service delivery and programme management. The application facilitates anganwadi workers (AWWs) in their daily tasks, helps supervisors to assess and provide feedback to the workers and helps other programme officials to track service delivery and take informed decisions. The ICDS-CAS has three components — a mobile-based application for AWWs, a mobile-based application for supervisors and a web-based dashboard for other programme officials.
It is reliably learnt that the server issue surfaced after the government insisted that the BMGF and its collaborator, US based Dimagi, host India's public data with an Indian service provider leading to issues in managing capacity to anchor such a vast data. India has total 14 lakh anganwadis and nearly 10 crore ICDS beneficiaries. A query sent to the BMGF remained unanswered till the time of going to print.
“The server issue has hampered real time monitoring of services,” said an official of Gujarat. How were then they tracking activities? The official replied that the State has developed its own software modules. The source also said there were also difficulties in accessing data from the portal much before the server problem, because of which they have developed their own tools. Sources also say lack of convergence between Health Ministry’s and ICDS CAS has led to many States being less enthusiastic in the latter.
On the ground, in Rajasthan’s Churu, at the Child Development Project Office, block co-ordinator Manju Kumar explains what this means for their activities. “No monitoring activity is possible through the CAS now. We have shifted to WhatsApp. If CAS was used to upload photos of anganwadis worker opening the centre, or while serving food to the children, we now use WhatsApp to keep an eye on these activities and share photos.”
The software also helps in calculating incentives given to workers for each tasks, but in its absence these have been pending since September despite the responsibilities of anganwadi workers increasing manifold due to the pandemic. They now go house to house spreading awareness about symptoms and precautions, identifying COVID-19 positive cases and even ensuring safety at events like panchayat elections.
“Children are already extremely vulnerable with respect to their health and nutrition due to the impact of disruptions in services. Now, if the news is correct about the ICDS-CAS being down for three months, it is a further avoidable disaster. Poshan Abhiyan is exerting a strong centralisation as well as push for technology-driven, data centric interventions. But this is precisely what the risks are with centralised approaches,” Dr. Vandana Prasad, Joint Convenor of People’s Health Movement India and a member of the Steering Committee of the Right to Food Campaign.