The above snippets distinctly highlight the misplaced priorities of the government of India with reference to the Integrated Child Development Services scheme.
ICDS aims to provide the supplementary nutrition, immunization, health check-up, pre-school education to the children of the age 3-6 years, nutrition and health education to the pregnant and lactating mothers, and any other referral services as per the need of the mother and child. The Anganwadi services can be termed as the backbone of this scheme.
The significance of Anganwadi is evident from the fact that the ICDS has been renamed as Anganwadi Services Scheme. The program since its inception has slowly evolved as per the contemporary needs. The latest leap is towards the process of digitization, wherein the Anganwadi workers are provided with a smartphone through which they have to update the data related to the nutrition component. But in providing for this, the government has definitely turned a blind eye to other persisting problems.
One-fifth of the Anganwadi centres don’t have the required medicines for the children, more than two-fifth of the centres don’t have enough space to accommodate all the children, and less than half of the centres could maintain the required level of good hygiene. Other pressing issues are lack of proper infrastructure at the Anganwadi centres for providing safe drinking water, lack of requisite human resource, low honorarium offered to the Anganwadi staff, and irregular payments. Additionally, there is also a need to improve the quality of the food provided.
Therefore, along with the digitization measure, these pertaining gaps should be bridged by replicating appropriate learnings from other sectors. For example, service delivery through PPP model; one or more component of the service package can be delivered through this model. The health component such as immunization can be delivered through entering into an agreement with the nearest available private health care provider.
Similarly, there can be geography-specific (such as village/ block/ ward) prioritization of services and thus customized action plans for enabling client centred service delivery. A non-government entity can be entrusted with impact evaluation of this system. Towards increasing the inflow of finances for the development of infrastructure, high network individuals can be motivated to sponsor specific requirements of their area’s centres.
For example, an affluent farmer of the village can be mobilized to install a water purifier and in return his contributions can be etched in the Anganwadi centre, thus providing him visibility. For addressing the problem of low human resources, the government can offer internship programs to engage young graduates. This will also will give the young generation an opportunity to understand the grassroot level challenges, thus enriching the think tank of the nation. Integration of different services can also be considered.
In a nutshell, the way ahead should be enhancing the skills of the Anganwadi workers through regular need-based capacity building training, empowering the Anganwadi centres for mobilizing resources locally, and engaging the young generation in the Anganwadi ecosystem through internship/ volunteer opportunities. This will strengthen the system and make it sustainable.