``Urgent action needed to tone up ICDS''

Special Correspondent

Concerned at poor implementation, Manmohan writes to all Chief Ministers

Lay emphasis on programme status in minority, SC/ST areas Core objective: universalisation with quality

NEW DELHI: Expressing concern over poor implementation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has asked all States and Union Territories to set up an institutionalised review process to exclusively deal with the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), after a detailed assessment. He urged them to lay a special emphasis on the programme status in areas with a concentration of minority communities, and a preponderance of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

In a letter to the Chief Ministers, Dr. Singh pointed out that unless stocktaking was done and lacunae were removed, universalisation would remain on paper and would not help children secure a brighter future. "The core objective of the ICDS scheme in the 11th Plan should be universalisation with quality."

Drawing attention to a number of reports and surveys, including the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) and Focus on Children Under Six , Dr. Singh said these seemed to indicate a noticeable decline in the qualitative aspects of the programme. Recent Supreme Court judgments also highlighted these problems.

"There is strong evidence that the programme has not led to any substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under six. Our prevalent rate of under-nutrition in this age group remains one of the highest in the world. The immunisation status under ICDS continues to be poor." As for the coverage status, about 11 crore children, out of a total of 16 crore in the 0-6 age group, remained unreached. "These are startling figures and the situation calls for urgent action."

He said: "My own reading of these reports and surveys leads me to believe that proper implementation of the programme critically depends on political will, decentralised monitoring and meticulous attention to day-to-day operational issues. Otherwise, problems like irregular functioning of anganwadi centres, inability to provide hot, cooked food, and leakage of food material meant for infants will persist."

There was need to empower Panchayati Raj Institutions and urban local bodies to monitor and supervise the working of these centres and to make line officials accountable for their actions. "Some States, in particular Tamil Nadu, have managed to build in these features in their standard operating procedures. It would be useful to learn from their experiences."

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