Govt told to hike budget for child health, nutrition

New Delhi: The current allocation to tackle child health and nutrition, giving Rs.4 per child in an anganwadi centre, is too low, say experts, recommending a hike in Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) expenditure in the upcoming budget.

"The current allocation of Rs.4 per child at the anganwadi centre is too low. This needs to be increased immediately," said Dipa Sinha, advisor to the Supreme Court-appointed commissioners on right to food.

The 37-year centrally-sponsored scheme focuses on early childhood development by improving nutritional and health status of children in the 0-6 age group. The scheme implemented in states takes view of public health and social development needs of children, mortality, morbidity, malnutrition and school dropouts.

The recommendations by the experts were drafted after a meeting of NGOs Save the Children and the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) Monday.

"Only 60 percent of what is allocated reaches the ground, and what is allocated is very little. Children under the age of two years are the most important target group to tackle malnutrition, and they have been left out," Sinha added.

The recommendations say the total amount needed to fulfill ICDS guidelines under the 12th Five Year Plan is Rs 2.58 lakh crore.

While the expenditure was said to be too low, experts also said that the salaries paid to ICDS work force who play a pivotal role in implementation was also very low.

"An anganwadi worker (AWW) gets Rs.3,000 and the anganwadi helper (AWH) gets Rs.1,500 per month. CBGA recommends that the AWW is paid Rs.6,000 and the AWH Rs.4,000 per month in order to keep them motivated so that their contribution to tackling malnutrition was optimised," the recommendations draft pointed.

"Malnutrition is the underlying cause of mortality in 33 percent of all deaths under the age of 5. It is the need of the hour that the government fights malnutrition on a war-footing," Thomas Chandy, CEO of Save the Children, said.