Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is an Indian government welfare program which provides food, preschool education, and primary healthcare to children under six years of age and their mothers. This program primarily aims at fighting malnutrition and ill health. The 2015-16 budget saw a steep decline in the allocation for ICDS Scheme, from Rs.18,195 crore in 2014-15 budget to Rs.8,335.8 crore in the present budget. A French humanitarian organization is urging President Pranab Mukherjee and the Narendra Modi-led government to reconsider the budget for 2015-16 and give malnutrition the priority it deserves in the light of the drastic cuts in children's schemes and programs.
Rajiv Tandon, deputy country director of Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger), India, said, "One of the most vulnerable children communities are the eight million children battling severe acute malnutrition (SAM). It is the most dangerous level of malnutrition. SAM is a medical emergency in India and the attention that children suffering from SAM are getting from the authorities is far from satisfactory. The allocation for ICDS Scheme has been reduced from Rs.18,195 crore in 2014-15 budget estimates to Rs.8,335.8 crore in 2015-16 budget estimates. In terms of overall budget, the ministry of women and child development has witnessed the sharpest cut of 51% from the last budget. Such a drastic cut in the union budget support for such important government interventions for children would imply that the children of the country would be exposed to far greater degrees of vulnerability."
Tandon also expressed his concerns at the devolution to the states since the government has increased tax devolution to states to 42% from 38% as recommended by the Fourteenth Finance Commission. He said, "The union government's expectation that state governments would re-evaluate their budget significantly and compensate for the devolution from the Center's budget allocation for these programs seems unlikely at this stage because the states are being given more autonomy in their spending but their overall basket of funds has not been increased considerably. The civil societies working for child nutrition worry that with the states battling between their respective priorities, child under nutrition can easily slip down in the rank. Urgent measures need to be taken to screen, detect, refer, treat and follow up children with severe acute malnutrition as they lie on the threshold between life and death."
Tandon also said that the central government, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley have been apprised of these concerns and the next step is to seek an appointment with President Pranab Mukherjee in the coming week to discuss the issue. He said, "We are appealing to the highest authorities in India to relook the budget for children and to give SAM the priority it deserves. Community-based management of acute malnutrition is the need of the hour to ensure their lives are saved and this requires the government's help by way of specific budgetary provision for this intervention. Without access to adequate food, balanced nutrition, clean toilets and safe water, we cannot prevent children from becoming acutely malnourished. Our organization has also requested the central government to carry out a national survey on SAM children and urged it to finalize guidelines on community management of acute malnutrition."