In a recent letter to Chief Ministers of all states and Union Territories, Dr Singh expressed deep concern over the poor implementation of ICDS scheme and asked them to set up an institutionalised review process at their level to exclusively deal with the programme.
This should be done after carrying out a detailed assessment of the programme, he said.
''While doing so, he also urged them to lay special emphasis on the Programme status in areas with concentration of minority communities and preponderance of Scheduled Castes and Tribes,'' a press release said today.
Asking the Chief Ministers to send their response, he also wanted them to keep him posted on a ''regular, say quarterly basis, on further developments in this sector.'' Dr Singh pointed out that unless ''we take stock of the present position and remove the lacunae, universalisation will mostly remain on paper and will not help our children secure a brighter future.'' ''The core objective of the ICDS Scheme in the 11th Plan should be universalisation with quality,'' he stressed and expressed serious concern over under-nutrition in the 0-6 age group and poor immunisation status under ICDS.
A number of reports and surveys, including the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) and Focus on Children Under Six (FOCUS) seemed to indicate a noticeable decline in the qualitative aspects of the programme. Recent judgements by the Supreme Court had also highlighted these problems, he said.
The prevalent rate of under-nutrition in the 0-6 age group in the country remained one of the highest in the world.
Immunisation status under ICDS continued to be poor. The coverage status was also a matter of concern and about 11 crore children, out of a total of 16 crore in the 0-6 age group, remained unreached.
These were startling figures and the situation calls for urgent action.
He further said that his own reading of these reports and surveys led him to believe that proper implementation of the programme critically depended on political will, decentralised monitoring and meticulous attention to day-to-day operational issues. Otherwise, problems like irregular functioning of Anganwadi Centres (AWCs), inability to provide hot, cooked food and leakage of food material meant for infants, would persist, he said.
''You may appreciate that there is a need to adequately empower Panchayati Raj Institutions(PRIs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to monitor and supervise the working of these centers and to make the line officials firmly accountable for their actions. Some States, in particular Tamil Nadu, have managed to build in these features in their standard operating procedures. It would be useful to learn from their experiences.'' He said ICDS was being universalised.
''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. The core objective of the ICDS Scheme in the 11th Plan should be universalisation with quality.'' UNI