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.
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.
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
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.
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: –
A full refurbishment of mid-day infrastructure is required in order to ensure better access to nutritious food for primary school children. Cooks need to be appointed, kitchens need to be constructed and there must be a provision for drinking water. The involvement of technology can hasten the process of food preparation and delivery.
The finances for the MDM scheme must also be thought through with proper allocation of funds such that the scheme can function at low costs to reach its full potential.
A more nutritious and varied menu should be introduced in accordance with the MDM guidelines. Health intervention programs like deworming and immunity-boosting must also be implemented.
Proper evaluation and monitoring mechanisms must be established such as tasting beforehand of cooked meals, meetings to ensure a high standard, lab testing of samples, etc. There must be close supervision to improve quality standards. This is mainly to improve hygiene levels and prevent any disease caused due to the cooked food.
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.