The Myth of Mid-Day Meal – A Socio-Legal Critique

Mid-day Meal

The Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme is a meal-providing scheme in India, which is aimed at improving the nutritional standing of school-going children in the nation. The scheme supplies free lunch to primary school children of government institutions. The scheme is covered under the National Food Security Act, 2013. The Mid-Day Meal scheme was first started in the state of Tamil Nadu after which, it was introduced by states like Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra, etc.

The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was introduced by the Government in 1995 with the aim of improving primary education by improving the nutritional status of school-going children. In 2001, in the case of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties v. Union of India & Ors., the right to food was challenged under Article 21 of the Constitution of India stating that it fell within the ambit of the fundamental right to life. The Supreme Court order drew more and more schools to join the scheme.

National Food Security Act, 2013

The National Food Security Act, 2013 was completely implemented in 2015. The act mainly highlights the distribution of food grains among States. The Central Government will allocate food grains to all States and is also responsible to provide funds in those States where there is a shortage of supply. The state governments will provide a food security allowance to the beneficiaries in case of non-supply of food grains. The act also promises redressal mechanisms in case of grievances. The main aim of the NFSA is to improve nutrition and food security in India.

Joint Review Mission

The Joint Review Mission report of 2018-2019 was conducted in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh. The main observation of the report was that food such as milk and fruits were provided along with serving plates. LPG was used to cook the meals. However, the issue of inaccuracy regarding the information recorded was raised.

The availability of food grains between records maintained at school and the information furnished to district and negative balance of food grains in schools were not tallying. The size of the portion of the meals was lesser than what was supposed to be served. 42% of school children were still malnourished as there were clear signs of protein and micro-nutrient deficiency among children.

A report for Maharashtra stated that 40% of the children were malnourished. BMIs were manipulated as they used those of adults and there was no proper follow-up method by the states in order to take action. It is evident that a JRM report is by all means beneficial in order to have an idea of the areas of concern for each state and to also come up with suitable solutions to the problems that arise due to improper implementation of the scheme.

Achievements of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme

Mid-Day Meal

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme is aimed to result in some achievements one way or another. This could be in the form of alleviating classroom hunger; ensuring primary school children receive adequate nutrients and providing spillover benefits. In the case of why alleviating classroom, hunger is essential, hunger reduces a student’s ability to concentrate as well as retain anything they have learned. Hunger is the cause of several life-threatening diseases. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed public interest litigation to highlight chronic hunger and malnutrition even when there was an excess of food supply. This prompted the Supreme Court to direct the state governments to provide midday meals.

The MDM scheme has done more than just combat the problem of classroom hunger but has aimed at tackling nutritional deficiencies found in children. Sharing meals with kids from various socio-economic segments has also meant children are being taught to do away with social prejudices. Mid-day meals have contributed towards gender equity as it boosts female attendance in schools. The provision of mid-day meals also creates employment opportunities for women. The MDM scheme has also given teachers, the opportunity to enforce values of hygiene and essentials of nutrition to children. The Mid-Day Meal scheme also has spill-over benefits to non-targeted members of the family. The scheme is an incentive for poorer parents to enroll their children in a government school in order to avail the benefits of the scheme.

Challenges and Concerns affecting Implementation of the Scheme

There are some concerns that prevent the complete implementation of the scheme. This includes a lack of proper infrastructure and resources. Lack of storage facilities for food supplies is a cause for the improper implementation of the scheme. The scheme has shown signs of under-utilization of food grains which results in its wastage. Monitoring through frequent checks is not being taken place. Delays in payment to helpers cooks also hinder the effectiveness of the scheme. The availability of fuelwood, plates, ingredients is vital for the implementation of the scheme. The lack of clean water is a disruption to teaching activities and can thereby hinder the implementation of the scheme to the maximum. The food cooked and served needs to be free of any chemicals or toxins that are harmful to the lives of children.

Initially, the scheme disrupted the teaching in schools because these schools could not balance teaching and providing meals for students due to lack of space. Classrooms need to be converted to kitchens to create a place for this. There are corrupt private sector practices prevalent that are invading their interests in these programs. These practices could potentially take the form of centralized kitchens for Midday meals for those schools that are contacted by private entities. As a result, corrupt practices will be increased. Many states have still not initiated mid-day meals and as a result, school attendance and nutrition levels are very low.

Way Forward for the full potential of Mid-Day Meal Plan

Mid-day meals can play an important role in increasing school attendance, improving the nutrition level of children, reducing hunger, and fostering equity. This can be fulfilled only in case of proper quality safeguards and availability of resources. Some recommendations that can be taken into consideration in order to improve the efficiency and impact of the MDM scheme are as follows: –


India’s mid-day meal scheme has grown immensely since 1995, especially after the Supreme Court’s order in 2001 which mandated mid-day meals to be provided by all states. The quality of food served in the main issue to be tackled. This, in turn, depends on the norms that are set by the government as well as on the conditions in which the meal is prepared. There is hope for improvement in terms of financial allocations and the setting up of infrastructure.

Even when children were served only Dalia in schools, the scheme had an impact on enrolment in school. The impact of the MDM scheme on attendance and retention, however, needs to be examined more closely. The potential benefits of the scheme would be in terms of its nutritional and socialization gains. The role of the scheme to materialize ‘Right to food’ has played a significant role in reducing hunger, improving education, and in combating social disparities. In some states, the improvement in the MDM scheme is linked with an increased political interest in the scheme. The recent changes in the scheme include a greater dynamism and functioning of the program through better involvement from different concerned committees.

Ultimately, the success of the scheme depends on the public participation it receives which can be attained only through a collaborative approach.

Editor’s Note
The article focuses on the Mid-day meal plan and the impact it has on society. The different laws pertaining to the scheme have been discussed in detail and the achievements as well as the loopholes of the scheme have also been broken down and explained. The author has also focused on what has to be done next in order to make this scheme impactful in a country like India. Overall, the article gives a complete view of the mid-day meal scheme and its implications.

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