Midday meal and supplements
- From the next academic session, Karnataka is likely to become the 13th state to provide eggs under the midday meal scheme, which is among the largest initiatives in the world to enhance the nutrition levels of school-going children through hot cooked meals.
- Successive surveys pointed out the high prevalence of malnutrition, anaemia and low immunity among children in many parts of the state, where the National Family Health Survey-V found 35% children under five stunted, and around 20% wasted.
History of the scheme
- The current version of the programme, renamed PM Poshan Shakti Nirman or PM Poshan in 2021, traces its roots to 1995
- It was launched as a centrally sponsored scheme across 2,408 blocks for students up to Class 5.
- In 2007, it was expanded up to Class 8.
- However, the first initiative to provide meals to children had been taken by the erstwhile Madras Municipal Corporation around 1920.
- In post-Independence India, Tamil Nadu rolled out a school feeding scheme in 1956.
- Kerala: School lunch scheme run by a humanitarian agency from 1961.
- The state government officially took over the initiative on December 1, 1984, making Kerala the second state in the country to have a school lunch programme.
- Over the next few years, many other states launched their own versions of the scheme, and finally, in 1995, the Centre stepped in.
The scale of the scheme
- The scheme covers 11.80 crore children across Classes 1 to 8 (age group 6 to 14) in11.20 lakh government and government-aided schools and those run by local bodies such as the municipal corporations in Delhi under the provisions of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA).
- In the Budget for 2022-23, the Centre has earmarked Rs 10,233 crore for the scheme, while the states are expected to spend Rs 6,277 crore.
- It is not just a scheme, but a legal entitlement of all school-going children in primary and upper primary classes, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling in the People’s Union of Civil Liberties vs Union of India and Others (2001).
- AGMARK quality items are procured, tasting meals by two or three adult members of the school management committee.
- If the Mid-Day Meal is not provided in school on any school day due to non-availability of food grains or any other reason, the State Government shall pay food security allowance by the 15th of the succeeding month.
What is usually on the menu?
- The menu varies from one state or UT to another.
- But the authorities need to ensure that the nutritional component of the meal made up of rice, pulses, vegetables, oil and fat provides at least 450 calories and 12 gm of protein to children in primary grades.
- For upper primary children, the requirements are 700 calories and 20 gm of protein.
- The variations are in the cases of additional items such as milk, eggs, chikki, or fruits that the states provide as supplementary nutrition, the expenses for which are borne by the state government.
Why are eggs part of the menu in so few states and UTs?
- Some states, such as Arunachal Pradesh, find it costly.
- But dietary choices are an intensely contested area in India due to caste rigidities, religious conservatism and regional differences. Thus, the debate becomes political too.
- As a result, despite successive scientific studies, including those commissioned by state governments, showing the benefits of giving children eggs, many states have been reluctant about adding eggs to the school lunch menu.
- Many states have tackled such objections by making fruits available as an alternative to eggs.
- Objective of mid-day meal scheme:
- Address hunger and malnutrition, increase enrolment and attendance in school, improve socialisation among castes and provide employment at the grassroots level, especially to women.
Issues and Challenges:
- Corrupt Practices: There have been instances of plain chapatis being served with salt, mixing of water in milk, food poisoning etc.
- Caste Bias and Discrimination: Food is central to the caste system, so in many schools, children are made to sit separately according to their caste status.
- Covid-19: The nationwide lockdown has disrupted access to essential services, including Mid-Day Meals.
- Although dry foodgrains or cash transfers have been provided to families instead, food and education advocates have warned that this would not have the same impact as hot cooked meals on the school premises, especially for girl children who face more discrimination at home and are more likely to drop out of school due to the closures.
- Malnutrition: According to the National Family Health Survey-5, several states across the country have reversed course and recorded worsening levels of child malnutrition.
- Global Nutrition Report-2020: As per the Global Nutrition Report 2020, India is among 88 countries that are likely to miss global nutrition targets by 2025.
Interventions to improve maternal health and education must be implemented years before those girls and young women become mothers. The fight against stunting has often focussed on boosting nutrition for young children, but nutritionists have long argued that maternal health and well-being are the keys to reducing stunting in their offspring. Expansion and improvement of school meals are needed for inter-generational pay-offs.
Prelims take away
- PM Poshan scheme
- National Food Security Act, 2013
- Global Nutrition Report
- National Family Health Survey
Q. “Despite its potential, the mid-day meal scheme has been unable to make a transformative impact.” Discuss.