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Tribune special-part 1
Child nutrition plan ailing
Rs 3,000-crore funds siphoned off in 2008-09
Aditi Tandon
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 21
Hailed as the world’s largest child health programme that seeks to reduce severe to moderate malnutrition among India’s 6 to 72-month-olds, the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is showing deep signs of weakening.

In evidence of massive divergence of funds and low coverage of the eligible beneficiaries under the 36-year-old programme, the latest Planning Commission review has found out that across India, only 40 per cent of the expenditure which the state governments reported on the supplementary nutrition (SN) of children under the ICDS could actually be accounted for at the national level.

The rest of the expenditure could not be justified on SN as claimed by the states. For the financial year 2008-2009, the year of study, close to Rs 3,000 crore worth of funds allocated by the government for the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP), the most critical component of the ICDS, were siphoned off. This amounts to 56.4 per cent of Rs 5,383 crore, the total budgetary allocation for the SNP component under the ICDS for the said year.

So far as coverage goes, only 41 per cent of the children in the eligible group

across India were registered at Anganwari Centres (AWCs); 38 per cent of the eligible pregnant and lactating women and 10 per cent of the eligible adolescent girls were registered. Of those registered, only 64 per cent of the children were receiving supplementary nutrition on an average for just 16 days a month, which works to 192 days a year as against 300 days of supplementary nutrition mandated by the Supreme Court under the ICDS.

Field surveys of 19,500 households being served by 1,500 Anganwari Centres running 300 ICDS projects in 100 districts across India showed that large proportions of funds meant for SNP were lying unused at several locations. Based on the evidence gathered from beneficiaries, the review found that the massive unspent funds meant for child nutrition were actually siphoned off.

The percentage of the unspent amount under the SNP component is the highest for Assam at 95 per cent, followed by Bihar and Rajasthan at 71 each; Uttarakhand at 72; Madhya Pradesh at 64 and Punjab at 56 per cent.

The review report states, “The divergence between reported expenditure on SNP and spending that could actually be justified on ground is a matter of serious concern. Collateral evidence suggests that in most states, a large percentage of unspent funds meant for SNP were siphoned off.”

The review details the manner in which funds are being misappropriated. “In some areas where AWCs are given cash every month, there is a nexus between the Child Development Project Officer, the Supervisor of the AWC, bank, panchayat and Anganwari Workers (AWWs) to siphon off cash.

“In some others, contractors are supplying food items and money gets diverted through the manipulation of accounts and entries in the registers of beneficiaries the AWWs are supposed to maintain. There are severe irregularities in AWC registers and the ICDS lacks effective monitoring mechanisms,” the survey concludes.





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