Midday Meal Scheme: An Idea Gone Bad

The government of India in a bid to increase its literacy rate among the less privileged population of the society introduced several schemes like the National Literacy Mission launched in 1988, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan launched in 2001 and the Midday Meal Scheme which was launched in 2001 and implemented in 2004. The Midday Meal Scheme was introduced to provide hot cooked meal to children of the primary and upper primary classes. Other objectives of this scheme are:

1.       Improving nutritional status of children

2.       Encouraging poor children, belonging to disadvantaged sections to attend school regularly

3.       Improving concentration in classroom activities and increasing enrollment, retention and attendance rates.

India suffers from the problem of malnutrition and World Bank states that India has 42% of world’s underweight children. That is a terribly huge portion and it makes the Midday Meal Scheme very crucial to improve the condition of these children. This ill health of children is a major cause for the high rates of dropouts which go as high as 60%.

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The scheme has its roots back to the Pre-Independence era when the British administration introduced a Mid Day Meal programme for underprivileged children in Madras Municipal Corporation in 1925. Another similar scheme was introduced by a school in Calcutta for school boys on a payment basis. The Midday Meal Scheme has the potential to turn out to be a strong plan which can encourage the underprivileged parents to send their children to school. Along with providing nutrition, it can also increase enrollment and attendance as aimed originally but recent mishaps and controversies has put the scheme in poor light.

The decentralized model of implementation had a number of disadvantages like infrequent monitoring, corruption and hygiene issues. In 2004, there was an incident of a spark from the burning firewood from the cooking area lighting the thatched roof of a classroom, leading to death of 87 children. More recently, poisoned food has caused 23 children to die in Bihar.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has confirmed that 95 per cent of meal samples prepared by NGOs in Delhi did not meet nutritional standards in 2010-12. Several issues like irregularity in serving meals, irregularity in supply of food grains to schools, caste based discrimination in serving of food; poor hygiene and poor community participation have been reported. Extreme corruption among the officials has made matters worse and the controversies just keep getting dirtier.

Inspite of the plan’s success, the problem of malnutrition still persists in India. India State Hunger Index states in its report that “Its rates of child malnutrition is higher than most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.” A lot is left to be desired here and it is a long way before we see a healthier future of the country.

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