Author: KM Thomas
I Year | National University of Advanced Legal Studies, Kochi
The mid-day meal scheme is a pan India program to provide meals (generally lunch) to students in government-aided and government-run schools. The program, as seen today, was launched in 1995. There were many similar programs initiated by various state governments much earlier. The main aim of the scheme is to improve the nutritional intake of children and thus improve their overall well-being.
However, the day’s question is whether the scheme does provide nutritional food to school-going children? The question is important now since around 30 to 35 percent of children in various states are underweight or malnourished. Moreover, the country has been ravaged by Covid-19, resulting in the closing down of most schools. This makes the situation much more precarious since the mid-day meal schemes are not functioning following school closures.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme And the Right to Nutrition:
Quantity over Quality of the Mid-Meal Scheme:
The main issue concerning the scheme’s implementation is that the scheme focuses on the quantity of the food served rather than the quality. The politicians behind implementation of the scheme only want figures to show that food is being served as a part of the program. Various situations across the country point out the same. A few examples include the incident where a school in Uttar Pradesh had mixed one litre of milk with water and served it to 81 students. In such situations the question of how these kinds of acts can ensure the right to nutrition arises. Also, in extreme instances, such as the one that happened in Bihar, consumption of the mid-day meal has even caused death.
Inadequacy of the Mid-Meal Scheme to Satisfy Nutritional Requirements:
According to American Heart Association, the nutritional requirements of students between four and eighteen should be between 1200 and 1800 calories for girls and between 1400 and 2200 for boys. When looking into the calories a child receives via the mid-day meal program, one may find that a student gets around 450 calories at the primary level and around 700 calories at the upper primary level. The real question is whether students actually receive these caloric requirements mentioned in the books.
On a closer look into the food served at schools as a part of the midday meal scheme, one can understand that the food served is below consumable quality. Hence, there is a high chance that most students often skip these meals. Where students consume the meals provided as a part of the mid-day meal scheme, for most of the students who consume these meals, it may be the only meal they receive in a day. This means they consume way less than the required calories a student needs to consume in a day.
Corruption Hindering Effective Implementation of The Mid-Meal Scheme:
Another reason that hinders the effective implementation of the mid-day meal scheme is rampant corruption. As a result of corruption, a shortage of funds would adversely affect the effective implementation of the mid-day meal scheme and lead to the malnourishment of school children. The best examples of the rampant corruption in the system include the financial mismanagement by the HRD ministry and the diversion of funds in tune to Rs. 123.29 crores by various state governments from the funds allocated to the mid-day meal program.
The Influence of Casteism on The Implementation of The Mid-Meal Scheme:
Another fallback with the mid-day meal scheme, which hinders the effective implementation of the right to nutrition, is not something that the authorities should be blamed but the students themselves and society collectively, which is casteism. Though the constitution guarantees protection against untouchability and prevention of discrimination based on caste, these are ignored even during broad daylight in some Indian villages and cities.
The answer to the question of how casteism and untouchability affect the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme is that in most schools, the workers who cook food belong to the lower caste. Hence, the students belonging to the so-called higher class do not eat food based on the mere fact that the food was cooked by a person belonging to the lower caste. The best example of such a scenario is the incident that happened in Madhya Pradesh, where students outrightly rejected the food served just because the food was cooked by an employee belonging to the scheduled tribe. Such acts driven by casteism should be done away with, as these acts are a social menace.
The Way Forward for Effective Implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme:
As mentioned, the program has many shortcomings starting from implementation until the food distribution. Some of these problems can be rectified easily. However, for others, the solution is not so easy. It is very tedious as it involves changing the centuries-old thinking of citizens.
Implementation of a Monitoring System:
The first issue concerns the quality of the food being served. There exist several mechanisms initiated by the central government, such as the three-level monitoring system, which was recently initiated. However, there is still a lacuna in implementing the monitoring system. The stakeholders tasked with implementing the monitoring system at the state and district level are already burdened with other official duties, such as chief secretaries and other officials. Hence the time they allot towards monitoring the scheme’s implementation will most probably be meagre.
The most reasonable solution to this shortcoming is to form a committee comprising parents at the state, local and district levels. Such a committee would be effective since it consists of parents. Parents would work for the welfare of their wards and fight against any lacunae in the system concerning implementation. They would ensure quality and rule out any room for corruption in the system.
Sensitization of People:
To eliminate the deep-rooted menace of casteism existing in the system, changes in how people think are necessary. For this, the best solution is to change how parents and students think.
Firstly, parents and then students should be made aware that the form of discrimination they are employing is baseless. Making parents attend counselling sessions and encouraging them to employ insights from the counselling in real life could bring changes. This would lead to a structural change in the way they treat citizens belonging to the backward classes.
There are two ways to deal with the students who do not eat the food prepared by people of the backward classes. First, the school authorities should try for a positive approach. This includes giving students goodies or chocolate each time they respect or eat food prepared by citizens belonging to the backward class. If the positive approach does not work, the school authorities should resort to negative means. Negative means include imposing fines or making the violators do menial physical jobs such as cleaning the school premises or running errands. The effectiveness of the solution to this problem may vary from person to person since the thinking process of each student varies.
Children are the citizens of tomorrow. If we do not provide them with adequate nutrition, it stunts children’s overall intellectual and physical growth. Hence, for a better tomorrow and an incredible India, the mid-day meal scheme’s implementation must take place properly. Proper implementation of the scheme would also ensure that students receive adequate nutritious food.
 Gurinder Kaur, Child malnutrition rises in five years, as per NFHS-5 data, India Water Portal (Jan. 13, 2021), https://www.indiawaterportal.org/article/child-malnutrition-rises-five-years-nfhs-5-data.
 1 litre milk mixed with water served to 81 students in UP school under midday meal scheme, The Hindu (Nov. 29, 2019), https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/1-litre-milk-mixed-with-water-served-to-81-students-in-up-school-under-midday-meal-scheme/article30113998.ece.
 Bihar midday meal tragedy: Everything you need to know about the incident, The Indian Express (Aug. 29, 2016), https://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/bihar-chhapra-midday-meal-tragedy-everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-incident-3002203/.
 Erin Coleman, Nutrition Requirements for School Age Children, SF Gate (Dec. 7, 2018), https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/nutrition-requirements-school-age-children-3781.html.
 Sumi Sukanya Dutta, Centre carrying out detailed audit of Mid Day Meal programme in wake of episodes of corruption, The New Indian Express (Jan. 5, 2020), https://www.newindianexpress.com/thesundaystandard/2020/jan/05/centre-carrying-out-detailed-audit-of-mid-day-meal-programme-in-wake-of-episodes-of-corruption-2085150.html.
 India Const. art. 17.
 India Const. art. 15, § 2.
 Food discrimination with tribal students in MP school, administration acts, NewsBits (Sept. 24, 2016).
 Govt has adopted a monitoring system to ensure quality food under Mid-Day-Meal Scheme: Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal, Pib Delhi (Jun. 27, 2019).
Editor: Anugra Anna Shaju