Mid-day Meal Scheme, a novel direction given by the Supreme Court of India on November 28, 2001, involves provision of lunch, free of cost to school-children on all working days. The key objectives of the programme were noble-protecting children from classroom hunger, increasing school enrolment and attendance, improving socialisation among children belonging to all castes and addressing malnutrition- effectiveness is what is under surveillance.
120 million children are so far covered under the Mid-day Meal Scheme, which makes India, the largest school lunch programme running country in the world, with an allocation of Rs 4813 Crore in 2006-2007. But smiles of lakhs of children doesn't come for free. The Planning Commission’s evaluation hints that the activities related to cooked midday meal eats into teaching and learning time. Despite the success of the program, child hunger as a problem persists in India. According to current statistics, 42.5% of the children under 5 are underweight. With about 35% of world's illiterate population is India, our country may account for a majority of the world's illiterates by 2020. The question now is how to trade off between food and education.
But that is not all. Various scams involving Mid-Day Meal Scheme have been unearthed since it was started. In January 2006, the Delhi Police unearthed a scam in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In December 2005, the police had seized eight truckloads (2,760 sacks) of rice meant for primary schoolchildren being carried from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns in Bulandshahr District of UP to North Delhi.
There is a ray of hope. In Tamil Nadu, Health Cards are issued to all children and School Health Day is observed every Thursday. Curry leaves and drum-stick trees are grown in the school premises. In Karnataka, all schools have gas-based cooking. In Pondicherry, in addition to the mid-day meal (MDM), Rajiv Gandhi Breakfast Scheme provides for a glass of hot milk and biscuits. In Bihar, Bal Sansad (Child Cabinet) is actively involved in the orderly distribution of MDM. In Uttaranchal, mothers are appointed as Bhojan Mata and Sahayika in primary schools. In Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, children are provided micronutrients and deworming medicines under MDMS.
What has to be done? It is important that leakages from the MDMS should be stopped at all cost. The quality of cooked food served needs to be enhanced.
After all, true independence of India is when every child gets freedom from hunger... for now, Happy Independence Day 2010 !!!