Rampant corruption, fudged records and bland "panjiri" (high-calorie mix) — this is the reality of the government's ambitious Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), says the ‘Focus on Children Under Six’ (FOCUS) report. FOCUS is the first ever independent assessment of the programme designed to meet the nutritional and health needs of children under six years of age.
So, how healthy are children in India? The answer is disturbing. Poor ante-natal care and maternal undernutrition give children in India a poor start in life, with close to 50 per cent remaining undernourished. In the report — prepared by the Right to Food (RTF) Campaign — 12 villages each in the six states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu were surveyed.
The FOCUS report was released on Tuesday at a seminar on child rights, where Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen delivered the key-note speech. According to the survey, the ICDS is most effective in Tamil Nadu where anganwadis are run throughout the year and most people have access to nutritious food, regular health services and pre-school education. But in UP, the term anganwadi is synonymous with the distribution of bland ready-to-eat panjiri and fudging of records.
The seminar was attended, among others, by Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, University Grants Commission chairman Professor Sukhdeo Thorat, actress and social activist Shabana Azmi and Magsaysay award winner Shanta Sinha. Ahluwalia said the Planning Commission would increase its allocation to ICDS but added that there is an urgent need to analyze the effectiveness of the scheme.