Last year in the independence day speech Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme needed to be improved to ensure that the tragedy in Bihar in which 23 school children died was not repeated “anywhere in the country”.The Mid Day Meal Scheme in India , is the world’s largest school feeding programme reaching out to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools/EGS centres across the country.
The Bihar tragedy turned the national spotlight on problems affecting the flagship government scheme which provides lunch to nearly 120 million children in India every day – with lack of monitoring and hygiene, as also huge corruption, discrediting what is called the world’s largest school feeding programme. Mid Day Meal in schools has had a long history in India.
National Program of Nutritional Support to Primary Education was launched by government of India in the year 1995. The primary objective of this scheme was to provide nutritional meal to children in government schools and government aided schools. In 2001, The prgram was renamed as Mid Day Meal scheme (MDMS) and the Supreme Court directed all governments to provide cooked food to all children in primary schools. Since then the scheme has evolved. The Central government agreed to provide free grain (rice and wheat) and funding for transport, cooking cost and recently even an honorarium for the cook. The state government is required to top up this funding; pay for vegetables and pulses; provide infrastructure in schools and manage affairs.
The cost of Mid-day meal scheme is shared between Central government and state government and at present, 75% of the scheme is funded by Central government.In the 2013-14 budget, the central government allocated Rs.13,215 crore for the flagship scheme run by the HRD ministry in collaboration with states
Bihar serves mid-day meal to 13.5 million children in 73,000 government-run primary and middle schools. Nearly 30,000 schools have no kitchen or shed for cooking the meal.Almost 8,000 schools in the state have no buildings at all. It means that the classes run in open or in a room of a community building. In these schools, mid-day meals are prepared under the open sky.
There is serious lack of accountability in the implementation of mid day meal scheme on the ground, especially in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The most disturbing outcome reported has been the reduction in the quantum of food served to students or simply not serving meals. In many schools in Uttar Pradesh, the amount of food given was much lower than required by the government guidelines; many schools in Bihar did not serve meals for months.The diversion of funds and foodgrains, teachers preparing meals and spending less time in teaching and lack of food hygiene were also flagged in a parliamentary committee report, underlining institutional apathy and lack of concerted efforts in the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme.
It looks like that the Central Government does not want the scheme to function properly. They want problems to be created so that people ask them to stop the scheme altogether. They want to hand over the scheme to corporates totally Privatisation, has corrupted the entire mid day meal industry, the government agencies supervising the scheme by showing other NGOs the methodology to cheat the gullible public and fleece millions.NGOs like ISKCONs Akshayapatra and Naandi are getting full amount from the government to run the mid-day meal scheme. They also receive corporate funding for CSR. Taking money from the government, Akshayapatra is claiming to run the world’s largest NGO run scheme feeding one million children every day.
Mid Day Meal Scheme is a unique one in helping breaking the vicious circle of malnutrition in India by reducing the teenage malnutrition and hunger. But in the aftermath of the Bihar tragedy, the lobbies that had been trying to push for the ready-to-eat or packed food through the scheme have doubled their efforts. The argument that there is not enough money for improvement of the system is not correct. Even if the government provides three times more money tot the scheme, it will not make much difference in the expenditure of the government . The governments priorities are misplaced , as the mid-day meal scheme has always remained low on the priority of the government.
There is a need to reconsider the entire current approach to the ICDS and Community Management of Malnutrition, and demonstrate a comprehensive policy that promotes decentralization and community empowering processes. rather than following lazy short-term measures that are limited to acquiring some company product for distribution in the name of feeding small children and doing lip-service to ‘permitting’ SHGs to compete with commercial enterprises.
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