Sunday, June 4, 2023

India moves towards the target of eradicating malnutrition from the country


By Muneer Shamee

It is said that today’s students is tomorrow’s future. An approximately 12 crores students and innumerable primary and upper primary schools are benefitted by pan-national scheme of Mid Day Meal in India which is many more times greater than least populated countries over the world. A nation-wide programme of prvoiding free meals on school working days for eradicating poverty and hunger with the goal of improving students attendence and enrolment in government aided schools, aanganbadis, other government bodies and educational institutions under Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ( Education For All). Governed by National National Food Security Act 2013 also known as Right to Food Act, an act to provide free food to the students of class I to VIII. It may be decentralised model where the food is cooked in local premises by cooks and helpers monitored well by parents as well as teachers or may be centralised model where the food is cooked in public-private partnership by various NGOs run over the states. In the urban cities foods are cooked outside due to non- availability of space in their vicinity.  

It was first started for primary schools by National Support to Primary Education  (NSPE) on 15 August 1995 and in 2001 it became Mid Day Meal Scheme. In 2006-2007 the scheme was extended to cover upper primary schools.  Under this scheme children of primary and upper primary are provided with the food grains of 100 gms to 150 gms, pulses of 20 gms to 30 gms, vegetables of 50 gms to 75 gms and oil to 5 gm to 7.5 gms per students. The cooking cost of primary per head is rupees 4.13 and  rupees 6.18 for upper primary levels with 60% central and 40% state shares. In the north eastern states and himalayan region with 90% central and 10 % state contribution but in Union Territories 100% total central shares are provided. There is a provision of cook cum helper honorarium in which upto 25 children 1 helper is allotted and from 26 to 100 children 2 helpers are provided and for every 100 students 1 extra cook cum helper are provided. MDM schemes are monitored at different levels – school villages, block, municipalities, districts and national levels. In the schools it is monitored by the school managing committee and parent-teachers association. The meeting are arranged at quarterly, monthly and yearly basis and it is tasted before it is ready to serve.

The primary goal of MDM is to increase the presence of childrens in primary and upper primary schools with enriching sufficient nutrients to the students. It has the specific aims of promoting the spirit of peace and brotherhood while serving food irrespective of caste, colour and creed and providing free nutritional food to all learning children. MDM is also helpful in removing malnutrition in poor and unprivileged learners in government schools and thus ensuring the social balance and equality among knowledge gainers where all the upper and lower cast students are dinning together. It also helps in curing nutritional deficiency related disease as a result many children started enrolling ultimately improving the attendence. MDM schemes has enabled the enlarged scope of employment of self help cooks or helpers and reduced the burden and load of working parents and engaging housewives. 

But like all money funded schemes there are irregularities and drawbacks of these schemes as well. The MDM provides scope for assembling students but it also faces many challenges to inequality and caste discrimination in our society and cannot meet the differences between rich and poor. There is chance of inequality and caste barrier in this growing society. Inadequate infrastructure and lack of resources and temporary kitchen sheds are common in a thickly populated country like India. Lack of hygienic care, unhygienic water used for cooking, improper cleaning of utensils and irregularities are negative impact of MDM schemes. In the centralised cooking system there remains the issues of food security and safety where nutritional standards are not followed in the required parameters. Even the teachers and governing authorities are helpless in resolving the problems. Health is worth more than learning” — Thomas Jefferson

During COVID-19 crisis the Supreme Court has taken suo motto cognisance of non- availability of Mid Day Meal and asked the states for providing MDM to the poor and needy students. Some state like West Bengal is enlarging the scope and standards by continuously distributing the required foodgrains and vegetables like Rice, Pulses, Potatoes and even a hand sanitizers with utmost provision of maintaining social distancing and efficient management of free meal delivery.  Kerala government has opted for home delivery while Orissa has Public Distribution System and Bihar has announced for transferring direct money to their account. Other states have also declared to provide MDM for the needy students during this present crisis.

(Author is a columnist. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected])

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