OPINION: Mid-day meal - needs to improve the scheme

Author(s): Harish K. MongaThe mid-day meal scheme is world’s largest child-feeding programme which was commenced 15 years ago and as many as 11 crore children 1- VIII consume mid-day meal daily in government schools with 75:25 ratios of...

OPINION: Mid-day meal - needs to improve the scheme

The mid-day meal scheme is world’s largest child-feeding programme which was commenced 15 years ago and as many as 11 crore children 1- VIII consume mid-day meal daily in government schools with 75:25 ratios of centre and state government funds.

The mid-day meal scheme started by the central government, with a motive to increase the student's strength in government and non-government schools and to take care of their health, is victim of heavy losses because of its poor arrangements.


There are number of instances of poor mid-day meal supplies resulting in admission of students in hospitals instead of schools and it looks that the NGO organisers are saving lot of funds with sub-standard supplies. For example, ten boys and three girl students fell ill reported after eating 'panjeeri' in the mid-day meal at the Anganwari centre in Niamiwala village in Faridkot district, especially when Punjabis are well-known for their healthy diet.


In the past, sub-standard quality of food, being served has also been pointed out a number of times.  Even the iron pills given to the school children in Amritsar and Batala had led to their falling ill.  Even in one case, five teachers of Jind District in Haryana have been sentenced to a seven-year jail term by a district court for misappropriation of mid-day meal funds. Consuming of glass pieces by the children were also reported in the media which could invite serious consequences to a number of children.


As per the sources, under the mid-day meal scheme, in 12 lakhs schools, 5.77 lakh kitchens are working with 24 lakhs cook-cum-helper and crores of rupees are being sepnt by the centre and state governments jointly on this scheme. In all, 17,20,000 students, out of which 10,43,764 students in primary schools and 6,76,236 in upper primary schools have been covered under Mid-day meal scheme.  The foodgrains agencies in Punjab are issuing 100 gm wheat and rice per student for primary and 150 gm wheat and rice for upper primary schools, in naked form.  For preparing the food, the grant is being released at the rate of Rs.4.65 for upper primary schools and Rs.3.10 for primary schools, per student, per day. For every 50 students, the provision for keeping one cook has been provided. A detailed menu scheduled has also been prepared for full week including the sweet dish of rice on Saturday.  Presently, the cook is being served by the contract NGOs in Ferozepur, Fazilka, Roopnagar districts. The formalities for giving contract to NGOs in  Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Batinda, Patiala, Moga and Mohali districts have been finalized and in rest of the district, the mid-day meal work is being looked after the school heads and staff.


To provide the nutrient food to the students is a good step nut as per the sources, the grains being supplied is less in weight of 5 to 7 Kg per bag but still the contractors are after getting the contract in all the districts of the state.  As per the sources, one contractor in one block at least saves 25 qtl of foodgrain and in case Rs.1 is saved per day from the funds of cooking, the daily income on this account comes Rs.40,000 per day.  In this way, while the NGOs involved in mid-day meal, are minting money by supplying the sub-standard food, they are also playing with the health of the students.

There is no doubt that mid-day meal scheme has contributed immensely  to boost attendance in schools, which was between 6 – 32% and helped  find a way to address pervading malnutrition among children across  India.  Both the suppliers and organizes are not sincere in their duty.  However, the government must understand that implementation of the mid-day meal scheme is in itself a full time job and there requires dedicated staff.  It is unfair on students that teaching should lose precious time due to the scheme more so when issues related to corruption and the quality of meals served also exist.  Either the government should seek public-private partnership or instead of providing the cooked meal in schools, the children should be provided a stipend on this account.  These arrangements will help in three ways; the parents can give better food to their wards, relief to the teachers and the government of their major burden.

The proposal of Ministry for Women and Child Development and some MPs to serve biscuits instead of the cooked food to school children would indeed be a better option. But this will definitely block the way of using the meal scheme as a means of creating low-skilled employment for women from low-income families and make the way for commercial establishment.


There is a need to review the whole of the mid-day meal scheme to give new practical shape, as none of the government officials are ready to share their views on this subject as because of supply of sub-standard food, the numbers of students are becoming anemic which is ultimately affecting their study also.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012