Bihar black spot cannot write-off midday meal gains

Death of 23 children from insecticide ridden mid-day meal scheme in Bihar school is a scar on the world’s largest public funded school lunch scheme. But, the one incident is not enough to state that all is not right with the mid-day meal scheme.

The scheme is the simplest and one of the finest administered schemes of the government of India. It has been the prime reason for almost every child in the country now being in a primary level school, one of its broad objectives.

The concept of supplementary nutritional support through educational institutions started when Madras Corporation started a school lunch program in 1925. After Independence, Gujarat was the first state to start school lunch programme in 1984.

It was only in 1995 that the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched at the national level. The objective of this programme was to give boost to universalisation of primary education and to impact the nutritional intake of students in primary classes.

Accordingly, many of the states started distributing foodgrains (dry rations) @ 3 kg. /per month/per child with 80% attendance in class. The Cooked mid-day meal (CMDM) scheme was introduced in all Government and Government-assisted primary schools in the form of a country-wide “Day of action on mid-day meals” in April 2002 by a landmark direction of the Supreme Court.

In 2004, the Union Ministry of HRD, Department of Elementary Education and Literacy revised the guidelines for the scheme prescribing supply of meal with 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein. The Ministry again revised the scheme in September 2006 to provide cooked mid-day meal with 450 calories and 12 grams of protein content to all children in primary classes (I-V) in the country.

In its long journey, the mid-day meal scheme has witnessed several pitfalls including questions being raised over its efficacy. The 2010 Planning Commission study provided deep insight on how the scheme was working. Here are some of the findings which show both gains and failures of the scheme.

Almost universal coverage most states.

About 40 percent parents of the beneficiary children belong to the other backward classes, 23 percent come from the scheduled caste category, 12 percent come from scheduled tribe category and 24 percent belongs to the others category, which indicates an achievement of social equity.

33 percent of the parents of the beneficiary children are illiterates and 17 percent have studied till matriculation and above.

A majority of sample schools in Bihar, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka denied involvement of Gram Panchayats in the scheme.

In all the sample states, except Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, no established linkage was observed with the Health Department.

Although steering -cum – monitoring committees have been constituted at all levels, they are not holding any regular meetings to co-ordinate and monitor the programme at the block/village level.

Except for Tamilnadu and Kerala, in rest of the states a majority of sample schools, on an average, suffer from the unavailability and poor functional condition of kitchen sheds.

All the states suffer from the unavailability and poor functional condition of store rooms. The condition is marginally better in Tamilnadu.

All the states, except for Bihar and Rajasthan, have reported poor availability of tumblers. Except for Rajasthan, all the states have reported a poor availability of plates.

In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Meghalaya and West Bengal less than 75 percent of the sample schools have access to drinking water.

Except for Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, there is a serious shortage of cooks for midday meal in the sample schools across the country (para 4.10).

It has been observed that most of the states do not follow the guidelines of Government of India to deliver the foodgrain at the school point by PDS dealer resulting in leakage in the supply of foodgrain.

Selected districts in Uttar Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Meghalaya have utilized all the funds allotted to them. In contrast, some of the sample districts in Haryana, Jharkhand and Himachal Pradesh have utilized less than half the funds allocated to them.

The scheme has been successful in eliminating classroom hunger as a majority of sample beneficiaries have reported that the meal available at school is adequate.

Large proportion of children (in sample schools) in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu were of the opinion that the meals provided were of good quality. A large proportion of children (in sample schools) in Karnataka and Bihar were of the opinion that food served was of average and bad quality, respectively.

It has been observed that midday meal was able to bring together children from different communities in almost all the states and was thus able to achieve the objective of social equity to a considerable extent.

In most of the states teachers spend about one to two hours daily on activities related to CMDM thereby reducing precious teaching time.

Out of the 17 sample states where the data was collected, students in 9 states reported that they were involved in washing utensils. (para 5.5.1). viz Performance Evaluation of Cooked Mid-Day Meal.

The HRD ministry which administers the scheme had been in constant consultation with the states — implementing agencies — for removing the bottlenecks.

But, one should not forget that around 12 crore children in 12.14 lakh schools get cooked meal every day and removing shortcomings would take some time. Instances of bad food delivered in some schools should not be used to paint the scheme black.

Participation of local communities in ensuring smooth delivery of mid-day meal would be essential for improvement.

The government needs to be affirmative that unless principals and schools teachers are directly responsible to local panchayat or a committee of mothers, the Centre will not release funds for the scheme. A national level third party independent monitoring mechanism involving civil society is also required.

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