Cash transfer in ICDS: UNICEF, govt not on same page

Sharp differences seem to be emerging between the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD) and the UNICEF over whether to extend the cash transfer scheme to the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS).

In a meeting last week, UNICEF India representative Louis-Georges Arsenault is learnt to have made a strong pitch for cash transfers to ensure that ICDS facilities actually reach the targeted beneficiaries. The feeling within the ministry is that cash transfer would defeat the very purpose of ICDS, which is to ensure that the nutritional and educational needs of the child and mother are met. Once cash has been transferred, there is little the ministry can do to ensure that it is actually spent for the intended purpose.

When contacted, Arsenault said: "Efficiency of ICDS is the top priority. There is a need for better monitoring of these services and one of the options for that could be the cash transfer scheme."

Sources say that the matter has been flagged off by UNICEF and is under discussion, though ministry officials dealing with ICDS are categorical that such a move would be regressive, especially after its ambitious Rs 1.2 lakh crore revamp plan has recently been put in place. "There is no thinking at the moment to replace ICDS by cash transfers," said a senior official.

The ICDS is an important part of the initiative undertaken by the Health Ministry to work on the target of reducing infant mortality rate to 20 or less per 1,000 births by 2035, as was pledged by Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and representatives of 165 countries in the Global Call to Action for Child Survival conference held in the US in June last year. The UNICEF is also partnering WCD and the ministries of Health, Rural Development, Drinking Water and Sanitation, HRD on this.

In a summit held at Chennai later this week, the Health Ministry will unveil a host of initiatives in that direction, including a Strategic Roadmap for reproductive Maternal Newborn Child and Adolescent Health that will focus on iron supplementation and other nutritional requirements of adolescent girls, thereby widening the ambit of the programme from only pregnant and lactating mothers.

India is grappling with the problem of neonatal mortality. Nearly half 0.8 million of the under-five mortality figures are of babies who die within the first 28 days of birth.

"We will give out state-wise scorecards in the summit, focus on intersectoral coordination. It is important to look at infant mortality in the continuum of care perspective and understand that unless nutritional needs of girls are attended to from a young age it is difficult to reduce the number of low birth weight babies," said Additional Secretary and Mission Director, NRHM, Anuradha Gupta while elaborating on the measures undertaken to meet Millennium Development Goals and go beyond them for the 12th five-year plan.

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