The Promise of Delicious Hot Lunch: The Great Indian Midday Meal Scheme

There has been a lot of focus on India’s free provision of hot lunches in schools. Here, Sophia Sanchez provides an analysis of the scheme.

Overview

The National Program of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, commonly known as Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS), in India has had a long history since its inception in 1995. MDMS was first introduced to address two major challenges: hunger and education, and has come a long way since.

The flagship program mandates providing free lunch to approximately 120 million kids, which makes it the world’s largest free meal program. Children aged 6-14 years who enroll and attend school are provided lunch. MDMS covers schools run by local bodies, Government or Government-aided institutions including madrasas and maqtabs (Islamic educational institutions).

Calcutta Rescue / Creative Commons License

Calcutta Rescue / Creative Commons License

The need for MDMS

Despite making tremendous progress in several areas, India is grappling with several social issues. One such issue during the early 90s was to get children to go to school. Since a majority of the them belonged to families with low socio-economic status, education was the last of their priorities.

Surveys revealed that poverty resulted in hunger and malnutrition, which in turn hampered children’s capacity to concentrate, consequently affecting their classroom performance.

To curb hunger and malnutrition, and to bring children to school, the Government rolled out MDMS in mid-90s.

After battling several teething problems, the scheme’s major triumph was in 2001, when the Supreme Court of India intervened and directed all public schools to implement the program. Since then, the scheme has evolved and is making steady progress.

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Janak Chandarana / Creative Commons License

Evolution of MDMS

According to a report in The Economist, about 30% of Indian children are severely undernourished.  The good news, however, is that malnutrition has reduced by 10% in a decade’s time. The improvement hasn’t been drastic. From policy paralysis to implementation bottlenecks, MDMS has faced several issues, including the death of 27 children in Bihar attributable to food poisoning.

Following the incident, a number of measures have been taken by the Government to address grievances. Grievance Redressal Mechanisms (GRMs) have been set up for registering complaints. Complainants can call on toll-free numbers or write to concerned authorities who are in charge of redressal of grievances.

Besides, the Ministry of Human Resource Development relooks at and revises policy guidelines at frequent intervals to streamline the process. Recent revisions were made in 2015, which direct the schools to provide nutritious food in hygienic spaces inside the school. Also, a member of the staff has to taste the food and conduct quality test before serving it to the children. Authorities pay random visits to schools and collect food samples that are tested in laboratories to check the nutritional value.  The guidelines prescribed for nutritional content is:

 

Components Primary Upper Primary
Calories 450 Cal 700 Cal
Protein 12 grams 20 grams
Micro-nutrients Adequate quantities of micro-nutrients like iron, folic acid, vitamin-a etc.

 

Role of MDMS in Supporting Education

Statistical investigations and research on the Mid Day Meal Scheme like Bonds’ thesis have been conducted to understand the impact of MDMS on supporting education. The great news is that the results are in favor of MDMS.

The evidence endorses the positive bearing MDMS has had on education. The program has successfully managed to achieve objectives such as:

  • Encouraging children to enroll and attend school regularly
  • Addressing issues like hunger and malnutrition by providing nutritional food
  • Creating awareness on the importance of health and hygiene by setting healthy standards
  • Incentivizing education to encourage children to not just go to school but to keep going back

Both Central and State Governments have been working in tandem to ensure proper functioning of the scheme. Moreover, many Self-Help Groups (SGHs) and NGOs such as Akshaya Patra have joined hands with the Government to form an efficient Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The scheme has created employment opportunities and has further strengthened the economy.

The Government welcomes suggestions from advisors and citizens alike to improve the program. With suitable orientations, all stakeholders such as policy makers, implementers, teachers, stakeholders, etc., can be well prepared to take both hits and misses in their stride.

Taking the aforementioned factors into consideration, it would be right to deduce with much optimism that the MDMS scheme plays a crucial role in bringing children to school.  By improving the overall enrollment rate and taking care of children’s nutritional requirements, MDMS has managed to address two major problems with one efficient solution. The promise of delicious hot lunch has helped MDMS support education, making it a real game changer for India.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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