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Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

  • In Bihar’s Bhagalpur district, the COVID-19 crisis has laid low the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme.
  • Children of one of the most marginalised Dalit communities in Bihar have taken to rag-picking after the scheme, which guaranteed them one stable meal a day, came to a standstill.
  • With schools closed and anganwadi workers engaged in COVID surveillance work, there is a real danger that the nutrition of such children could be compromised.

Mid-Day-Meal (MDM) Scheme

The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal programme of the Government of India designed to better the nutritional standing of school-age children nationwide.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which India is a party, India has committed to yielding “adequate nutritious food” for children.

The Midday Meal Scheme is covered by the National Food Security Act, 2013.

The programme supplies free lunches on working days for children in primary and upper primary classes.

The Students of:

  1. Government schools,
  2. Government aided schools,
  3. Local body Education Centres,
  4. Education Guarantee Scheme, and alternate innovative education centres,
  5. Madarsa and Maqtabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan,
  6. National Child Labour Project schools run by the Ministry of labour.

How the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme came to be-

  • Post-Independence, Tamil Nadu was the first state to introduce the MDM scheme in the 1960s.
  • The Central scheme to provide meals to school children began in 1995, however, most states just limited themselves to providing dry rations.

Supreme Court Order: The Game Changer

  • A Supreme Court order of 2001 provided for all states to introduce cooked meals.
  • The Supreme Court order specified the states to provide “at least 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days in a year”.
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Supreme Court on MDM during Pandemic

  • The SC alerted state governments “Non-supply of nutritional food to the children as well as lactating and nursing mothers may lead to large-scale malnourishment, particularly in rural and tribal areas.”
  • Taking suo motu cognisance of the matter the Court asked states to ensure that “schemes for nutritional food for children are not adversely affected”.

Has the Mid-Day-Meal Scheme helped?

Research has shown how hot, cooked food attracted students to schools and improved their nutritional status.

MDM has been proven to attract children from disadvantaged sections (especially girls, Dalits and Adivasis) to school.

Along with Improvement of regularity, educational and nutritional benefits, socialisation benefits and benefits to women are also highlighted.

Hence, the main positives of this scheme are:

  1. Avoiding classroom hunger.
  2. Increased school enrolment and attendance.
  3. Improved socialisation among castes.
  4. Reducing malnutrition.
  5. Empowering women through employment.

Criticism of MDM scheme and Implementation

  • Despite the success of the program, child hunger as a problem persists in India, 42.5% of the children under 5 are underweight.
  • Some simple health measures such as using iodised salt and getting vaccinations are uncommon in India.
  • Many children don’t get enough to eat, which has far-reaching implications for the performance of the country as a whole.
  • A 2005 study found that Caste based discrimination continued to occur in the serving of food.
  • Media reports have also highlighted several implementation issues, including irregularity, corruption, hygiene, caste discrimination, etc.
  • Poor food quality is a major concern, affecting the health of children (as many media reports show students falling sick dur to lapses in quality checking and control). There are provisions for regular social audit, field visits and inspections but these are seldom carried out.
  • The schools do not function during holidays and vacations which deprives children of their one daily meal.

Way Forward

  • The pandemic has led to widespread economic distress, and in such times, the need to strengthen food security programmes cannot be overstated.
  • It would do good to address the major concerns regarding quality control measures to avoid students from falling sick.
  • Providing MDM apart from regular school days can help avoiding children being hungry during holidays.
  • Addressing the casteism in delivery of the food is also important to avoid students from dropping out due to discrimination.
  • Improving quality inspections will help reduce the corruption that hurts the system.

-Source: Indian Express

June 2024