The government is considering introducing conditional transfer of money to the accounts of pregnant women and lactating mothers instead of the current practice of giving them rations at aanganwadi centres to ensure that they get to eat healthy, nutritious food.
This will entail an investment of Rs 11,000 crore per year to open 7.5 crore Jan Dhan accounts of woman beneficiaries.
A group of secretaries constituted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review government programmes and give budget ideas for 2017-18 on the “Health, Sanitation and Urban development” sector has recommended conditional cash transfer instead of take home ration to the PM.
“The cash transfer will be conditional and will be given to those mothers/pregnant women who come for timely immunization and health check-ups. This will ensure that the woman does not have to come all the way to the aanganwadi centre to get her nutrition supplement,” said a government official.
Despite India running one of the world’s oldest nutrition programme -- the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) launched in 1975 – it has failed to address the needs of children and expectant mothers. India continues to have one of the high prevalence of child malnourishment.
Poor infrastructure, lack of resources, overburdened staff, lax monitoring leading to pilferage and poor enforcement has reduced the efficacy of this child intervention programme targeted at the 0-6 age group.
ICDS has also come under flak from the top panel of secretaries who reviewed it. The panel noted that one of the reasons for the schemes failure is high leakages and poor quality of cooked food and rations given to children and pregnant women.
Besides, four lakh of the 24 lakh aanganwadi centres are running without buildings, 1.5 lakh do not have water in their facility while two lakh centres have no toilets.
In 2013, a comptroller and auditor general (CAG) report had criticized the women and child development ministry, which is piloting the programme, for diverting ICDS funds. State governments, the national auditor pointed out, had diverted Rs 57.82 crore from ICDS to other activities.