Concern over poor implementation of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) has prompted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to write to all States and Union Territories asking them to set up a process of dealing with child development. For a man who is usually very balanced, Singh asked for an institutionalized review process to exclusively deal with ICDS, Singh asked states to focus on minority communities and Scheduled Castes and Tribes. With key state level elections around the corner, many skeptics are questioning the motives of the letter.
In his letter, Singh specifically pointed out a qualitative drop in the Focus on Children Under Six program and in violation of Supreme Court judgments that mandated such programs. Citing the National Family Health Survey, Singh warned of “strong evidence that the programme has not led to any substantial improvement in the nutritional status of children under six.” He bemoaned that India’s “rate of under-nutrition in this age group remains one of the highest in the world.” Further, he pointed out that the “immunization status under the ICDS continues to be poor” and as a result 11 crore children out of a total of 16 crore in the 0-6 age group are not reached. He implored the Chief Ministers to initiate “urgent action.”
Idealistically, Singh said that he believes that the problem can be solved through “political will, decentralised monitoring and meticulous attention to day-to-day operational issues” failing which “problems like irregular functioning of anganwadi centres, inability to provide hot, cooked food, and leakage of food material meant for infants will persist." Commending Tamil Nadu for empowering its Panchayat and urban local institutions, Singh asked all states to follow this model and make line officials accountable for their actions. If this is not done, he said that the 11th Plan objectives of “univeralisation with quality” cannot be achieved.