Question – In order to achieve the twin objective of educated and healthy children, the Government of India launched a national program of nutritional support for primary education known as the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Analyze how far the scheme has been effective in achieving its stated objective. – 12 October 2021
Mid Day Meal Scheme was started on 15th August, 1995 as a centrally sponsored scheme in 2408 blocks of the country. By the year 1997-98, this program was started in all the blocks of the country. In 2003, this was extended to children studying in Education Guarantee Centers and Alternative and Innovative Education Centers. Since October 2007, it has been implemented for children from class VI to VIII in 3479 educationally backward blocks of the country. From the year 2008-09, the program has been extended to all children studying at upper primary level in all regions of the country.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme – Program Objectives
- To improve the nutritional level of children of classes I to VIII in government, local body and government aided schools and EGS and AIE centers and madrassas and maqtabs under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
- Helping poor children from disadvantaged sections attend school regularly and focus on classroom activities, and
- To provide nutritional support to primary level children in famine affected areas during summer vacation.
India is experiencing a human rights paradox. While its GDP has been growing steadily over the past decade, rates of malnutrition and starvation-related morbidity remain high. In People’s Union for Civil Liberties v Union of India and Others (PUCL), the Supreme Court explicitly established a constitutional human right to food and set a basic nutritional level for India’s millions of poor people.
Positive impact of mid-day meal on children’s health and education
- The cooked mid-day meal program has been successful in reducing the hunger of the classroom in the beneficiary schools. This scheme helps in alleviating the hunger of the classroom as many children come to school empty stomach or children coming from far away become hungry again on reaching school, thus unable to concentrate on studies.
- The contribution of mid-day meals to food security and child nutrition appears to be particularly important in tribal areas, where hunger is endemic.
- The mid-day meal has important social value and promotes equality. The cooked mid-day meal is said to have created a platform for children of all social and economic backgrounds to eat together, thereby facilitating the achievement of the objective of social equality.
- Stunting has an adverse effect on the cognitive development of children in India. The mid-day meal is designed in such a way that children get adequate amount of proteins, carbohydrates, as well as micronutrients like iron and folic acid.
- By providing adequate nutrition, this mid-day meal plan seeks to address the issues that hinder the physical and cognitive development of children.
Concerns related to mid-day meal
- According to the Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, the mid-day meal scheme has focused the attention of teachers and students on activities related to teaching and learning rather than on activities related to it.
- The Standing Committee noted that MDMS has led to more attendance of pupils but did not significantly aid fresh enrollment into schools
- The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report 2016 revealed that the government utilized only 67 per cent of the funds for the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme.
- The dropout rate of students at the elementary level was more than 26 per cent during 2010-14. There has been no assessment of improvement in the nutritional status of children other than a general health check-up.
- There have been reports of irregularities in serving food, irregularities in supply of food grains to schools and poor community participation in some states like Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand etc.
- Caste-based discrimination in serving food continues as food is central to the caste system. In many schools in states like Odisha, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, children are seated separately according to their caste status.
The Standing Committee recommends that the District Nodal Authorities should strictly demand Utilization Certificates from the Implementing Authority and the schools so that there is no delay in the distribution of funds or food grains.
Logistics and hygienic storage of food grains are important for the cooked healthy food. Most schools do not have adequate storage facilities and do not have the necessary staff to cook hot meals.
The mid-day meal program is one of the most efficient social interventions in an effort to end malnutrition. Well-nourished children become productive members of the society, better equipped to provide greater opportunities to lead a better life for themselves and their families. This program is a remarkable step towards strengthening the social indicators of the country.