Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will not allow children to eat eggs under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme because it is a ‘sentimental’ issue for him. ABANTIKA GHOSH profiles the ICDS, its objectives and meals.
What is the ICDS?
Launched in 1975, among the oldest running supplementary nutrition programmes for children aged 0-6 years, and pregnant and lactating mothers. Basic unit of implementation is anganwadi centre, which is also responsible for immunisation, health check-ups, some pre-school education of children, and nutrition and health education of women of reproductive age. Aim is to have an anganwadi centre in every community development block, irrespective of population. Blocks with over 2 lakh population should have at least two centres. ICDS has been criticised for being corrupt, unmonitored — and its failures are manifest in the fact that 40 years after the scheme was launched, an estimated 30-40 per cent of India’s children remain malnourished.
Who funds ICDS?
It is a centrally-sponsored scheme that is implemented through the states. Until about a decade ago, states paid only for supplementary nutrition, Centre for everything else including establishment costs. It subsequently became 50-50, but the sharing pattern for supplementary nutrition has been 90-10 for the Northeast since 2009-10. Many anganwadis function out of ramshackle, makeshift premises. The last Budget cut allocation for ICDS from Rs 16,316 crore to Rs 8,000 crore.
Who decides what children get to eat in an ICDS meal?
The central government decides the calorific composition and per-beneficiary expenditure. Currently, children of 6 months to 6 years get 500 Kcal daily, from 12-15 g protein apart from other foods. Severely malnourished children in the same group get 800 Kcal, with 20-25 g protein. For pregnant and lactating mothers: 600 Kcal, at least 18-20 g protein. The budget, currently, is Rs 4 per day for normal children, Rs 6 for severely malnourished children and Rs 5 for pregnant and lactating mothers.
Because the implementation is with the states, and because food habits vary widely even within a state, the menu is decided by the district administration.
So, if a chief minister takes a strong view on what, or what not, to serve, that may be expected to be decisive. NGOs or contractors fill in tenders to prepare and serve food in accordance with specifications. Governments have tried some unconventional options like “fortified biscuits” in the anganwadis, but hot cooked meals is now the norm.
The budget is a limiting factor, so in many cases an option such as egg loses out to, say, lentils, chana or soybean. Some states like Bihar and West Bengal have been forced to cut down on the number of days they serve anganwadi children egg. Maharashtra and Uttarakhand prescribe eggs only for vulnerable children, while Kerala has egg for MDM, but not for ICDS.
How are ICDS meals different from the Mid-Day Meal scheme?
There is no connection. ICDS aims to improve nutrition levels of children of pre-school age. MDM, which started in 1995, is the world’s largest school meal programme, and is essentially about enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance of children. However, while drawing children to school with a meal as an incentive, a well-run MDM scheme should improve nutrition levels as well. All children in Classes 1-8 in government/aided schools and education centres, and unrecognised madarsas/maqtabs supported under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan, are beneficiaries. Currently, nutritional norms for MDM are: 450 calories and 12 g of protein for Classes 1-5; 700 calories and 20 g protein for Classes 6-8.
(inputs from THE INDIAN EXPRESS correspondents across India)