PM expresses worry over malnutrition
Concerned about inadequacy of health programmes, he asks CMs to tackle the issue seriously, reports Aloke Tikku.india Updated: Jan 17, 2007 00:02 IST
India runs the world's largest programme to enhance health and nutrition of children.
However, on Tuesday, there was an official recognition that the programme introduced 31 years ago was inadequate for infants and toddlers.
The government released a letter Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had written to chief ministers last week to take a closer look at how India's generation was shaping up.
A World Bank report released last year in May had painted a grim picture: India's malnutrition rate is nearly double than that of sub-Saharan Africa and has a role to play in nearly 50 per cent of all child deaths in the country.
Other reports have made similar points.
Singh noted that several studies and reports seemed to indicate "a noticeable decline in the qualitative aspects" of the programme.
To begin with, he asked them to set up an institutionalised review process at their level to deal with implementation of the government's Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme.
It is under this scheme that Anganwadis are tasked to cater to nutritional and other health needs of children under the age of six.
There are already six lakh centres that would cost the central exchequer Rs 4,000 crore this year.
Singh suggested they were not having too much of an impact.
"There is strong evidence that the programme has not led to any substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under six," he said.
Singh went on to highlight that prevalence of under-nourishment in India was among the highest in the world and the immunisation status under ICDS 'continued to be poor'. Besides, the programme covered just five crore children, leaving out as many as 11 crore.
The prime minister's letter comes in the backdrop of the Supreme Court's directions to drastically raise the number of Anganwadi centres, a directive in line with the UPA government's political commitment to universalise ICDS.
Singh spoke of this commitment, and then his worry. "But I am afraid, unless we take stock of the present situation and remove the lacunae, universalisation will mostly remain on paper and will not help our children secure a brighter future," he wrote in his January 9 letter, setting "universalisation with quality" as the scheme's "core objective" over the next five years.
The prime minister also asked states to delegate more powers to local bodies, like Panchayati Raj bodies. Singh said he believed that proper implementation of the programme was dependent on political will, decentralised monitoring and meticulous attention to day-to-day operational issues.
Otherwise, problems like irregular functioning of the centres, inability to provide hot cooked food and leakage of food material meant for infants will persist, he warned.