Why Audit of Mid-Day Meal scheme is needed?
Polity & Governance
18th Dec, 2019
The Union government is set to conduct an audit of mid-day meal programme across India, following the controversy surrounding the quality of food served in some schools in Uttar Pradesh.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme - Facts
- Scheme covers all children studying in class I to VIII.
- The programme supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes in government, government aided, local body, Education Guarantee Scheme, and alternate innovative education centres, Madarsa and Maqtabs supported under SSA and National Child Labour Project schools run by the ministry of labour.
- MDM is covered by National Food Security Act, 2013.
Ministry/Department : Department of School Education & Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development
Objective: To enhance, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children.
- Started in 1995 as National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education
- To achieve the above objectives, a cooked mid-day meal with the following nutritional content is provided to all eligible children.
- For Primary students:
- Calories 450
- Protein 12 gms
- For Upper Primary students:
- Calories 700
- Protein 20 gms
- Adequate quantities of micro-nutrients like Iron, Folic Acid and Vitamin-A.
- The mid-day meal scheme is one of the largest school meal programmes in the world and caters to more than 91.2 million students across 1.13 million schools.
- A School in Uttar Pradesh served “roti and salt" to students. The district administration later filed a police complaint against journalist for reporting it in media and evoking wider criticism.
- However, it is not the first time that the mid-day meal scheme has got into controversy.
- It has been reported that various children have been hospitalized or died after consuming contaminated food. In July 2018, at least 30 students suffered food poisoning after having the mid-day meal in Delhi. In October last year, 45 children in Goa were hospitalized after having the mid-day meal. At least, 23 children had died in Bihar’s Chhapra district in 2013 after consuming contaminated mid-day meal.
- In the wake of these issues the Union government is set to conduct an audit of mid-day meal programme across India.
- Malnutrition caused 69 per cent of deaths of children below the age of five in India, according to a UNICEF 2019 report. So Mid-Day Meal is of greater significance for India.
Issues with Mid-Day Meal Scheme
Aim: The program aims to “enhance enrollment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improve nutritional levels among children.” The program has the potential to end chronic malnutrition and starvation. However, the program has many issues which the government must immediately address.
- There are too many layers of government involved in the scheme, resulting in poor information, coordination and monitoring.
- A few examples of poor monitoring and coordination show the issues this scheme encounters. In July, 2013, 23 children from the Indian state of Bihar died as a result of unsafe food preparation.
- No special structure is there to look after the quality of food served, hygienic conditions and other aspects of the scheme.
- Rampant corrupt practices have been found from food procurement to distribution of hot cooked meals among children.
- A video showed plain chapatis being served with salt in a school.
- Another video revealed how a litre of milk was mixed with water so that it would suffice for the more than 80 children present that day in school.
- As per the government norms, every child is entitled to receive 150 ml of milk as part of the mid-day meal.
- Caste bias and discrimination continues in the implementation of the scheme
- It has been found in many schools that foods cooked by lower caste cooks were not eaten by children.
- Food is central to the caste system, so in many schools, children are made to sit separately according to their caste status.
- There have been multiple incidents of unhygienic mid-day meals.
- Dead rats, worms, lizards and insects have been spotted in mid-day meals served at schools across India.
- Recently, the CAG found that schools in Punjab were noted to have no water testing, no use of gloves, and violation of prescribed menus.
- Children were made to wash utensils, despite the school having hired staff to do so
- Sub-standard food is served in many schools because there is not enough monitoring and accountability at the lower levels
- 85% of Indian children between the ages of 7 to 12 have high rates of micronutrients deficiencies (in iron, folic acid, Vitamin A). These can impair cognitive developments; impair concentration, cause school absenteeism and even illness. As successful pilot projects in Odisha have shown, staple essentials of Mid-Day meals like rice and wheat like can fortified with micronutrients. Micronutrient premixes can be added to cooked meals. These have shown success in reducing anaemia.
- However, fortification has only made its debut in some states like Karnataka instead of a pan-India rollout.
Irregular Food Supplies
- Constant food and fuel supplies are not provided to the schools
- It is also a difficult challenge to deliver food to rural areas. Roads are not paved and the infrastructure is lacking. Even if food makes it to these remote areas, kitchens to cook the food in are not available within the schools.
Problems faced by Teachers
- Teachers play a key role in the successful implementation of mid-day meal scheme at school level.
- Teachers face a number of problems such as problem of management of the mid-day meal, wastage of food by the students, insufficient and delayed receipt of funds, increased workload of teachers, procuring dry ration from the retail shops, lack of infrastructure for storage, cooking and serving food, lack of safety provisions, unhygienic surroundings, etc.
Lack of Documentation
- A record of what students eat is not maintained.
- In some regions, one can see the daily menu painted on the school wall.
- Writing letters to authorities and documenting the gap between the painted menu and what is actually served might be a great activity.
- Other issues range from delayed payments, poor food quality, cooks not receiving pay and food being wasted. There is even embezzlement of the money by way of fake enrollments.
- The scheme is perceived as charity, not a civic responsibility. With the growing shift of the better-off parents to private schools, government schools are viewed as places for the poor. Therefore, the mid-day meal is associated with poverty both in public perception and state policies.
Achievements of Mid-day Meal Scheme
UNICEF’s Executive Director’s Letter – Hope and Worry
- · UNICEF’s executive director Henrietta Fore recently wrote an open letter to the world’s children.
- It marked 30 years since the promulgation of children’s rights by global consensus.
- The letter listed eight reasons why she is worried and another eight why she is hopeful.
- Reading the two lists, one will feel that there is a lot more to worry about than to feel hopeful about.
- Coverage - The letter starts by acknowledging that poverty, inequality and discrimination still deny millions of children their rights.
- Food and education are among them.
- Then there are larger issues like the impact of conflicts, climate change, new technologies and their impact on the integrity of democratic procedures.
- The concluding part of the letter is about children’s loss of trust in institutions.
- From fake news to divisive policy choices, the UNICEF chief’s global letter evokes a wide range of local thoughts.
- A whole new industry backed by public institutions is now handling the supply side of public demand for moral training during the formative years of life.
- UNICEF must be aware that some of its sister agencies in the UN system are actively involved in the emerging neuroscience of ethics.
- One cannot charge fake news alone for waylaying the young.
- Increased Enrollment and Attendance: The meal scheme is generally a successful one as it has led to “increased enrollment in schools, increased attendance in schools, improved performance of students in class in terms of better attention span and academic progress.
- Improved nutritional status of students: Studies have found that the scheme reduced the daily protein deficiency of a primary-school student by 100 percent, the calorie deficiency by almost 30 percent and the daily iron deficiency by nearly 10 percent.
- There is a dramatic fall in underweight and stunted children (from 48 % to 39 % (2005-6 and 2013-14).
- To minimize the layers in the governance of the Mid-Day Meal scheme for effective Implementation and effective accountability mechanisms.
- Monitoring & Accountability Model: Committee of parents to audit food quality and other issues
- Audit reports to be discussed in PRIs
- To institute automated monitoring systems for the midday meals supply, via apps, SMS, email or whatsapp.
- The civil society, government and concerned citizens should work in a coherent manner to produce tangible results.
- Instead of the school teachers being involved with every aspect of Mid Day Meal, from shopping to tasting, a separate person should be engaged as Mid Day Meal incharge at cluster level under the scheme for maintaining records and making purchases.
- Funds and food supply should be given at regular intervals to the schools to avoid discontinuation of Mid Day Meal Scheme or financial burden over teachers. Provision of advance payment should be made.
- Mechanism should be evolved to monitor the schools in far-flung and mountainous areas so that the benefits of the scheme can reach really to the needy population.
- Cook-cum-helpers should be given awareness about hygienic conditions. They should be paid well so that they work with motivation and commitment and should be trained for hygiene and desirable cooking practices.
- Storage and other hygiene facilities should be provided in the schools
- Provision of hand wash should be made available in each school for students so that they can learn hygiene.
- Seasonal fruits, milk, egg, green leafy vegetables and vitamin rich foods should be added to the menu to meet the nutritional needs of the students.
- Recent data released by UNICEF and the Global Health Database shows that in 2015 around 33 percent of Indian children were malnourished. India currently has more malnourished children than sub-saharan Africa and half of all child deaths are a result of malnutrition.
- Hopefully nonprofits and the government can work together to improve and perfect the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, as India’s children definitely need it and can benefit from its proper implementation as the program has the potential to end chronic malnutrition and starvation.