by Ritesh Dwivedi
The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally sponsored scheme on August 15, 1995, initially in 2408 blocks of the country. Today the NP-NSPE is the largest feeding programme covering about 12 crore children in over 9.50 lakh schools across the country. Barring a few, all States are providing 3 kg of wheat/rice per child per month. It was only after the directives of the Supreme Court that cooked Mid-Day Meal Programme had to be undertaken by the State governments after November 2001. The Court also directed the State governments and Union Territories “to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every government and government assisted primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days”.
In August 2005, a subcommittee of the National Steering and Monitoring Committee (NSMC) was constituted to make recommen-dations on, among other things, the adequacy of norms for Central assistance to meet cooking costs and the manner in which the infra-structure gap could be met. Based on the recommendations of the NSMC, the Central Government approved a revised scheme beginning June 2006; this scheme is currently operational.
The 2006 NP-NSPE states that it aims to address two problems faced by the majority of children in India—hunger and education. Its specific objectives are:
• Improving the nutritional status of children in classes I—V in government, local body and government-aided schools and EGS and AIE centres;
• Encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections, to attend school more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities;
• Providing nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought-affected areas during summer vacation.
This scheme aims at enhancing enrolment and retention of children in schools by providing nutritional food so that the children could gain health and take keen interest in education. Indirectly it also envisages the promotion of social values and equality through the common sharing of food by children.
This programme exhibits a positive influence on enrolment and attendance in schools. A hungry child is less likely to attend school regularly. Hunger drains them of their will and ability to learn. Chronic hunger leads to malnutrition. It also delays or stops the physical and mental growth of children. Mid-Day Meals have an important social value and foster equality. As children learn to sit together and share a common meal, one can expect some erosion will be there in caste prejudices and class inequality.
A study in Birbhum district of West Bengal states that the Mid-Day Meal Scheme had led to a significant increase in enrolment and atten-dance of children, the increase being particularly marked in the case of girls and children from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It further says that the scheme had averted severe under-nourishment, reduced social distances and curbed teacher absenteeism. (Pratichi Trust, 2005)
Rama Naik (2005) reports that the Mid-Day Meal Scheme had improved student enrolment and reduced teacher absenteeism in Karnataka. She also found that mid-day meals were being served regularly and both parents and students were highly satisfied with the scheme. The study, covering 211 schools in 14 blocks of Chittorgarh district, also found that the enrolment and retention had increased in about 64 per cent of the schools over the last three years. (Drèze and Goyal, 2003)
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme provided employment for more than 26 lakh cook-cum-helpers engaged by the State/UTs during 2010-11 for the preparation and serving of school meals. Most of them were women and a part of them belonged to the Scheduled Castes and other vulnerable social groups. The Programme Evaluation Organisation (PEO, 2010) of the Planning Commission, in its study covering 48 districts in 17 States, found that 43 per cent of the households to which the children benefiting from the Mid-Day Meal Scheme belonged were rural labour households. Another 31 per cent were farmers, mostly small and marginal ones, with very small holdings. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme thus seems to have reached the working poor to a significant extent. These children are generally hungry during the day, because their parents work as wage labourers either far away or go for work early.
Areas of Improvement
In some areas, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme appears to be moving in the wrong direction as the PEO study found that utilisation of foodgrains averaged 76 per cent in the 48 sample districts it covered. Utilisation was especially low in tribal and backward districts such as Madhe-pura in Bihar (seven per cent) and Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh (17 per cent). The supply of foodgrains to cook food, though adequate, is of quite low quality. Due to faulty system of pur-chasing and storage of foodgrains by the Food Corporation of India, sometimes the foodgrains supplied have been found to be rotten and full of insects and pests. This is testified by the cases of children falling ill after taking the mid-day meal, as reported in the newspapers.
Guardians are also unable to check this malpractice as they have no say in what type of food their children are getting at the schools. The prescribed food menu has generally been defied due to paucity of utensils, non-supply of requisite items for food preparation, the operator’s sweet will and workload of the cooks. The food prepared is not of good quality and there are no visible signs of the health improve-ment of children due to the intake of so-called nutritive food under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In an atmosphere where the menu of food is not adhered to, the quality of food containing essential micro-nutrients and vitamins is altogether negelected.
In most parts of the country, the food is not served to children properly and nobody ensures that the children are observing the norms of cleanliness. There is no suitable place where the children could sit properly and consume food as a homogenous group. The officers of the Education Department hardly visit the schools with a view to monitor the operation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The scheme is creditable in the sense that there is hardly a feeling of untouchability amongst the children and their parents. The innocent children studying in primary schools do not hesitate in taking food from the common kitchen.
There is a need to coordinate the functioning of various departments with regard to the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. The village Pradhan should be entrusted with the entire responsibility of implementation of the scheme at the village level. A village level committee for the MDM should be constituted after making some modifications in the existing provisions. The Head-master of the concerned primary school should be designated as secretary of this committee. The above committee should be authorised to make purchases of foodgrains required for the Mid-Day Meal Scheme twice a year. It would not only make the foodgrains available at cheaper rates, but ensure their quality also. In case of default, this committee should be taken to task.
It must be clearly told to the guardians that their ward would be entitled to obtain scholar-ship, dress and mid-day meal only after ensuring their attendance up to 80 per cent. No proxy in attendance should be allowed. It must be ensured that the children are provided food at a proper place in hygienic conditions.
Pratichi Trust (2005): Cooked Mid-day Meal Programme in West Bengal — A study in Birbhum District, Kolkata.
Naik, R. (2005): Report on Akshara Dasoha Scheme of Karnataka, University of Dharwad.
Drèze, Jean and Geetha Kingdon, (2001): “School Participation in Rural India”, Review of Development Economics, vol.5, no.1, pp 1-24.
Drèze and Goyal, (2003): “Future of Mid-Day Meals”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol.38, no.44, November 1, pp 4673-4683.
Programme Evaluation Organisation, Planning Commission, Government of India (2010), Performance Evaluation of Cooked Mid-day Meals (CMDM).
Government of India (1995): Guidelines of National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education launched in August, Department of School Education and Literacy, http://education.nic.in/mdm/
Government of India (2004): Revised Mid-Day Meal Scheme Guidelines — 2004, Ministry of Human Resources Development, New Delhi.
Afridi, F. (2005): “Mid-Day Meals in Two States; Com-paring the financial and institutional organisation of he programme”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 40, no. 5, April 9, pp. 1528-1534.
Dr Ritesh Dwivedi is an Assistant Professor, Amity Business School, Amity University, Noida.