With a view to enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on 15th August 1995 (MHRD website). It became mandatory in 2001, every child enrolled in a government and government aided primary school was to be served a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories of energy and 8 to 12 gms protein per day for a minimum of 200 days. Over the years, the scheme was seen various revisions and extensions. Although this scheme is centrally sponsored, the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is a highly coordinated scheme with several actors at various levels that are essential for its functioning at the state, district, block, Gram Panchayat , local government and school level. India’s government mid-day meal program is the largest in the world, feeding 120 million students per day (Newton, 2016).
The History of the MDMS:
Certain states in India had their own mid-day meal schemes prior to it being introduced by the Central government in 1995. As far back in 1925, in pre-independence India, a mid-day meal program was introduced for poor children living in the Madras Corporation area in Tamil Nadu (GoI 1995:2 as cited in Swaminathan, add year). The next year, the Madras government introduced a compulsory elementary education scheme, which included the Madras Corporation. This program continued till 1982-83, when a new scheme was introduced, replacing it. The new scheme called the Puratchi Thalaivar MGR Nutritious Meal Programme (PTMGR NMP) was introduced in rural areas for pre-school and primary school children i.e. children aged from 2 to 9 years. The scheme was later extended to urban areas (Sept 1982), to old age pensioners (Jan 1983), to school students aged from 10 to 15 years (Sept 1984) and pregnant women (Dec 1995). Other parts of India too had their mid-day meal scheme before the government initiative in 1995 such as some parts of Kerala (1941), Bombay (1942), Bangalore city (1946), Uttar Pradesh (1953) and Gujarat (1984).
By 1990-1991, twelve states had implemented the mid-day meal program using their own resources. In 1995, the NP-NSPE was launched in certain blocks. Central assistance provided free food grains (100 gram/ child/ school day) and transport subsidies capped at Rs. 50/ 100 kg. By 1997-1998, the program was extended to all regions of the country. In 2001, the Supreme court mandated the mid-day meal be implemented by all states. In the states or Union Territories where dry rations instead of cooked meals were provided, the Supreme Court ordered that cooked meals must be provided within three months in all government and government-aided primary schools (classes I to V) in all half of the Districts of the State (in order of poverty) and must extended the provision of cooked meals to the rest of the state. In October 2002 the program was extended to children in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education centers. In 2004, the NP-NSPE was revised to include, in addition to the free food grain provision (100 gm/ child/ school day), central assistance for cooking costs (Rs. 1/ child/ school day), transport subsidies (capped at Rs. 100/ quintal for special category states and Rs. 75/ quintal for other states), a management, monitoring and evaluation cost and the provision of meals in drought affected areas during the summer vacation. Two years later, the NP-NSPE was further revised to increase the food intake from 300 kcal to 450 kcal as well as established food standard norms.
Central assistance too was increased in the following ways – doubling the assistance towards cooking costs to Rs. 2/ child/ school day; assistance to construct a kitchen or store room; assistance to provision or replace kitchen devices and changes in the management, monitoring and evaluation cost. A year later in 2007, the scheme was extended to children in class VI to VII in Educationally Backward Blocks and all children in these classes from 2008-09. Every child in these classes was to be served a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 750 kcal and 20 gms of protein per day. The central assistance was also higher with free food grains of 150 gm/ child/ school day; increased cooking costs (Rs. 2.50/ child/ school day); provision of meals in drought-affected areas in the summer vacation as well as infrastructural assistance and increased transport subsidy to special category states. In 2008, this was extended to students in Muslim religious schools supported under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was covered. In 2009, after The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education was introduced, the scheme was revised frequently, almost once a year where the focus was largely on revision of food standards, legal standards for usage of double fortified salt, guidelines on food safety and hygiene and guidelines and a model MoU for engagin with NGOs or other civil society organizations. Table 1: Mid-day meal food norms effective from Dec 1, 2009 Items Quantity per day/Child Primary Upper Primary Foodgrains 100 gms 150 gms Pulses 20 gms 30 gms Vegetables (leafy also) 50 gms 75 gms Oil & fat 5 gms 7.5 gms Salt & condiments As per need As per need Source: Mid-day meal scheme website, MHRD (accessed Dec 23, 2018) Table 2: Revised Cooking cost (Rs.) per child per school day 2011 to 2016 Stage Effective Total Cost Central-State Sharing Non-NER States (60:40) NER-States (90:10) & 3 Himalayan States All UTs (100%) Central State Central State Central Primary (Class I to V) April 1, 2011 2.89 2.17 0.75 2.60 0.29 – July 1, 2012 3.11 2.33 0.78 2.80 0.31 – July 1, 2013 3.34 2.51 0.83 3.01 0.33 – July 1, 2014 3.59 2.69 0.90 3.23 0.36 – July 1, 2015 3.86 2.32 1.54 3.47 0.39 3.86 July 1, 2016 4.13 2.48 1.65 3.72 0.41 4.13 Upper Primary (Class VI to VIII) April 1, 2011 4.33 3.25 1.08 3.90 0.43 – July 1, 2012 4.65 3.49 1.16 4.19 0.47 – July 1, 2013 5.00 3.75 1.25 4.50 0.50 – July 1, 2014 5.38 4.04 1.34 4.84 0.54 – July 1, 2015 5.78 3.47 2.31 5.20 0.58 5.78 July 1, 2016 6.18 3.71 2.47 5.56 0.62 6.18 Source: Compiled from Mid-day meal scheme website, MHRD (accessed Dec 23, 2018) Figure 1: Year Wise Outlay under Mid-Day Meal Scheme (Rs. in Crore) Source: Mid-day meal scheme website, MHRD (accessed Dec 23, 2018)
The operationalization of the MDMS:
Food grains are provided by the local depots of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). While earlier the FCI supplied the food grains to the states and a centralized payment was made by the central government without confirmation by the states. Realizing that this was taking too long, the government decentralized the process in 2010 through a government order (F.1-15/ 2009). Under the new procedure, food grains are allocated biannually by the Department of School Education and Literacy in conjunction with the Department of Food and Public Distribution separately for the primary and upper primary levels. The first six monthly allocation is made in the first week of Feb of the previous financial year based on the number of children and number of school days approved by the Programme Approval Board of the Mid Day Meal Scheme for the previous year. T
he second and final allocation is made in the first week of August, accounting for the unspent balance available with the states during the previous year and the first allocation. The states send a utilization certificate of food grains supplied to the Government of India (GoI), where they indicate the quantity consumed. This is done at the Block and District level. Once the states receive an allocation from the GoI, they make district-wise allocation of food grains, separately for primary and upper primary classes. A buffer stock of food grains for a month is maintained at the district level. The FCI is responsible for continuous availability of adequate quantity of good quality food grains. The District collector (or the CEO of the Zila Panchayat) are expected to ensure the food grains are of fair and adequate quality and three samples are drawn in the presence of state government representatives and those of the FCI. These samples are retained for three months and use to ascertain the veracity of complaints, if any. The FCI is expected to raise bills by the 10th day of the next month after provision of food grains and the district administration is expected to pay within 20 days. The states are expected to make adequate provisions in their budget for this and are expected to release this amount in advance to the districts. The GoI is also expected to release these funds to the state governments as soon as the budget is passed. If no budget is available at the district level, the state should authorize the districts to use the relevant treasury rules to make payments and then adjust the amounts as and when the budget is received by the states. States are also expected to monitor the lifting, payment and quantity of food grains sent to the school or cooking agency.
There are several committees at different levels – at the national level the Empowered Committee, Steering-cum-Monitoring Committee (NSMC) and the Programme Approval Board (PAB), who monitor and suggest implementation measures. Other committees include – a state-level Steering–cum-Monitoring Committee, a District Level Committee and at the village level – members of Village Education Committees (VECs), Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) and the School Management Committees (SMCs). The committees at the village level are involved in the more day-to-day implementation of the scheme.
According to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2017 report, India is home to 190.7 million undernourished people in the world, constituting 14.8% of its total population in 2015-17, a reduction from 2004-06 where it was 22.2%. 38.4% of children in 2017 under five are stunted, implying that their mental development, school performance and intellectual capabilities may be affected by the long-term nutritional deprivation. This is a reduction from 2012, where the corresponding figure is 47.9%. One in five children suffers from wasting, implying that their weight is low compared to their height. Furthermore, India ranks at 100 out of 119 countries on the Global Hunger Index. Nakao et al. (2018) mention that there is no national health survey after the implementation of the MDMS to evaluate the improvement nutritional outcomes for children served a mid-day meal. One would expect that the program dovetailing school attendance with meals, would improve nutritional outcomes, school attendance and enrollments.
However certain researchers conducting their independent research have found mixed results as well as problems with the implementation of MDMS. A CAG report finds declining trends in enrolments during 2009-10 to 2013-14 observed in several states: Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. Dreze at al. (2003) who conducted a survey of 81 randomly selected villages, divided equally in the states of Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Rajasthan, found both positive and negative aspects of the MDMS in their interviews with parents, teachers, cooks and other individuals. Of the positive findings, they report – improved school enrollment, particularly for girls; improved school attendance and retention; socialization among other castes (in a limited way); non-income support to poor families and good management of food logistics. Their negative findings include – poor infrastructure for cooking (including water supply and utensils); repetitive menus; overt or covert caste discrimination and prejudices towards lower caste children or cooks; serious health hazards; disruption of classroom activity as teachers had to oversee the cooking and very low allocation of funds per meal. Another study conducted by Afridi (2005) in early 2004 in 41 randomly sampled villages in a non-tribal block of the Chindwara district on Madhya Pradesh, where information was collected on 615 households, 74 primary schools and 35 village panchayats. Afridi finds delays in the implementation of the program, 47% of panchayats spending less than mandated amounts, lack of adequate infrastructure, no separate kitchen and even the most basic – adequate plates. Afridi reports a better program implementation in Karnataka with more nutritious meals (pulses and vegetables) and tablets (iron, folic and de-worming). The program was also extended till class VIII. A study in 2004 by the Pratichi research team comparing 15 randomly chosen schools implementing the program to those who didn’t, found a 10% increase in attendance where the program was run, with a higher impact among the Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe and Muslim population.
They also found increased teacher attendance; over four-fifths of parents were in favor of the program; 82% of parents were willing to contribute in any way and 88% of children wanting the program to continue. It is also important to note the importance of this meal as almost three-fourths of children did not have food before coming to school. In addition to the issues mentioned earlier, their study found inadequate salaries paid to cooks and limited opportunities for parental participation. Blue (2005) found in a study of 8 schools in rural Rajasthan that the children and teachers spent long hours cooking or getting firewood and in the case of teachers, supervising the meal preparation and keeping records. Additionally, since schools were paid were three to three months, the teachers took loans of food ingredients. A study in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi by De et al. (2005) found that even after selecting NGOs and caterers to cook the food, the quantity and quality of food were less than the minimum requirements.
The food served under the MDMS has been criticized on various fronts such as the menu, the food quality, the preparation and even down to who prepared or served the food. The food has been criticized as low quality and the menu being repetitive. It has been argued that the government is so focused on covering as many schools and students as possible, that food quality is often relegated to a lower priority. During the food preparation, it is possible that hygiene, cleanliness and food preparation standards may not have been met. There have been multiple news reports, where children have either fallen sick after eating the mid-day meal and in some cases, tragically died. Many of these children come from extremely poor families and the mid-day meal is the only meal they might eat in a day. Many incidents go unreported as well. The parents of these children, thereby, fearing the safety of their children have declined to eat the mid-day meals. With so many intermediaries, it is inevitable that some of the food or raw material is siphoned away or never reaches the schools. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (2015) found financial mismanagement by the Human Resource and Development ministry as well as states diverting funds of Rs. 123.29 crore meant for the scheme. The CAG report also found the following: the MDMS was not implemented in 32 government-aided schools of Amritsar and Ludhiana, depriving 50,417 students of benefits; the usage of 1.04 lakh kg less rice than prescribed norms in Belur, Karnataka and excess payments made to NGOs. Chauhan (add year) evaluates the use of schools to implement social policies by conducting 26 structured interviews, 8 focus groups and 5 teacher key-informant interviews in an Indian village in the state of xx. He found that the community does not trust the government, regards the state-run schools to be of poor quality and finds that the community no longer perceives the school as an institution that imparts education but one that provides free meals. He cautions that the change in perception would perhaps mean that the mid-day meal may not meet its goal of promoting education.