A group of activists have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, opposing a government proposal to replace supplementary nutrition provided at anganwadis with cash transfers.
In the letter, members of the Right to Food Campaign have called the proposed shift to cash transfers from supplementary nutrition under the government's Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) violative of the National Food Security Act (NFSA) and added that it would "undermine" the fight against malnourishment.
The government think tank NITI Aayog, in its recent report, noted that ICDS was plagued with complaints of leakages and poor quality food supplement, and recommended that pilot projects be initiated "to test the efficacy of implementing the ICDS supplementary nutrition component through cash transfers".
The secretary of the women and child development ministry, Rakesh Srivastava, recently told journalists that a decision on the proposal was yet to be taken.
"Recent experience with cash transfers (from NREGA wage payments and pension schemes to cash-transfer experiments in Chandigarh and Puducherry) does not give any confidence that cash grants will be disbursed in a timely manner in this case, or that women will have convenient access to their bank accounts, or that the money will be wisely used for nutrition purposes," the Right to Food Campaign letter stated.
Under ICDS, the government provides food, preschool education and primary healthcare. Anganwadi centres are also linked to the scheme. As per this programme, a child between six months and three years of age, as well as pregnant women and lactating mothers till six months after child birth get take-home ration. Children between three years and six years get hot-cooked meals.
The Supreme Court had in 2004 passed orders banning private contractors for ICDS and encouraging decentralised production and distribution through village groups, mahila mandals, self help groups, etc.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had last month called the role of anganwadis into question when she said that "anganwadi system has stopped being an effective delivery system 20 years ago".
She also recommended that nutrient packets should be despatched through postmen directly to the beneficiaries instead of serving hot, cooked meals at anganwadi centres as the latter were not calorie-dense.
There are a total 13.55 lakh anganwadi centres across the country with 983.42 lakh beneficiaries, of whom nearly 800 lakh are children under the age of six years. PTI
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