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Mid-Day Meals in Primary Schools

The mid-day meal scheme, which has overcome many of the teething problems that besieged it since its launch in 1995, has become an almost universal scheme, feeding primary school children all over the country. This review of the MDMS traces its development and examines its achievements to date. The review addresses the challenges still faced by the scheme and suggests possible remedies.

Perspectives

Mid-Day Meals in Primary Schools

Achievements and Challenges

The mid-day meal scheme, which has overcome many of the teething problems that besieged it since its launch in 1995, has become an almost universal scheme, feeding primary school children all over the country. This review of the MDMS traces its development and examines its achievements to date. The review addresses the challenges still faced by the scheme

and suggests possible remedies.

REETIKA KHERA

T
he situation of children in India has aptly been described as a “silent emergency”. In terms of both education and health, India has some of the worst indicators of child well-being in the world. Nearly half of all Indian children are undernourished, whether we use the weight-for-age or height-for-age criterion. Though there has been some improvement in educational indicators in recent years, the goal of universal elementary education remains quite distant, especially for girls. Wider awareness of these issues has led to significant initiatives such as the recognition of elementary education as a fundamental right, the introduction of an “education cess” and the launch of “Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan” (SSA). Another major intervention is the “Mid-Day Meal Scheme” (hereafter MDMS), launched in 1995 with the aim of “universalisation of primary education by increasing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously impacting on nutrition of students in primary classes”.1

As this statement indicates, mid-day meals can play an important facilitating role in the universalisation of elementary education by enhancing enrolment, attendance and retention. Mid-day meals (MDMs) can also contribute to better educational achievements by improving the nutritional status of children, or at least eliminating “classroom hunger”.2 Further, some states have used the MDMS as an opportunity to overcome common micronutrient deficiencies (e g, iron, iodine and vitamin A) and to facilitate related health interventions such as mass deworming.

MDMs can also play useful socialisation roles, especially in India’s class- and casteridden society. Sharing a meal with children from diverse caste and class backgrounds can help children overcome traditional social prejudices. There are other possible educational benefits, such as imparting nutrition education and personal hygiene to school children. These and other contributions of the MDMS are discussed in greater detail below.3

Until 2001, however, the MDMS was implemented neither in letter nor in spirit and was limited to providing “dry rations” in most states.4 Things began to changeafter November 28, 2001, when a Supreme Court order in the “right to food” case directed all states to provide “cooked meals” to all primary school children.5 When this order was passed, some observers felt that this was yet another case of over-ambitious judicial intervention, and that the provisions of the order would remain on paper. However, the political appeal of mid-day meals, combined with a lively grassroots campaign for the implementation of Supreme Court orders, helped ensure that implementation hurdles were gradually removed. In a relatively short period of time (about four years), mid-day meals have become a part of the daily school routine across the country. Today, the MDMS provides a cooked meal to approximately 120 million school children, making it the largest school feeding programme in the world. It has gained considerable popular support, especially among disadvantaged sections of the population.

This study reviews evidence from nine field studies and government documents to understand how the scheme actually works on the ground.6 The aim is to identify the achievements so far as well as the remaining challenges.

I History and Managementof the MDMS

A Brief History of Mid-day Meals

When the MDMS was launched in 1995, state governments (who were responsible for implementing the scheme) were given two years to put necessary systems in place so as to be able to provide cooked meals to primary school children. However, in the first six years after the scheme was launched (i e, until 2001), most states failed to put the required arrangements in place and instead provided students with monthly dry rations (wheat or rice) based on their attendance in school. Tamil Nadu had launched a cooked MDMS in the 1950s and expanded it significantly in 1982, and Gujarat introduced mid-day meals in the 1980s. Besides this, the entire state of Kerala, and some pockets of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, began providing cooked meals in 1995.7

In the five years since 2001, the situation changed quite dramatically. In an interim order dated November 28, 2001 the SupremeCourt directed all state governments “to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every government and government assisted primary school with a prepared mid-day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 812 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days”. Very few states, however, introduced cooked meals in primary schools before the Supreme Court’s initial deadline of February 28, 2002.8 The deadline was later extended to January 2005 by the Supreme Court.

State inaction prompted grassroots activists to start public mobilisation efforts. The first major campaign activity was an “action day on mid-day meals” on April 9, 2002.9 In 100 districts across nine states, people expressed their dissatisfaction with the state of implementation of the SC’s order. In Bangalore, children lined streets with empty plates; in other places, copies of the SC order were distributed. The most effective form of protest was the provision of a symbolic “people’s mid-day meal” to school children in public places, aimed at shaming the government into action.

Following the Supreme Court’s orders and public mobilisation, the government of India revised its guidelines for the MDMS in 2004. According to these guidelines, the MDMS was being fully implemented in 20 states and all seven union territories, and partially in the remaining eight states.10 Since then, the coverage of the MDMS has been further extended, and today it is close to universal.

It is worth noting that some states have gone beyond the scope of the mandated coverage. For instance, in Tamil Nadu and Kerala the destitute and the aged are permitted to partake of the mid-day meal in school. In Gujarat, the scheme covers children from classes 1 to 7. The new guidelines, in line with the Supreme Court order dated April 20, 2004, provide for meals to be served during the summer vacations in drought-affected areas. Some states, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, have been following this directive.11

Finance for the MDMS

As mentioned above, the MDMS is a centrally-sponsored scheme.12 Grain (wheat or rice) for mid-day meals is supplied by the central government to the state governments free of charge, at the rate of 100 gm per student per day. Besides this, the central government also subsidises the transport of grain from the nearest FCI depot to the primary school.13

Other costs include the cost of ingredients (such as pulses, vegetables, cooking oil), fuel costs and cooks’ wages. Until the new guidelines were issued in 2004, these costs were to be borne by state governments. This was one of the main reasons behind state governments not providing cooked meals: dry rations saved the states the additional cooking expenses.

Initially, the wage costs were met from the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana (JRY). In 1999, the JRY was revamped and these costs began to be borne by state governments. Following the Supreme Court’s orders the central government began providing additional assistance. For instance, in December 2003 state governments were asked to earmark 15 per cent of funds under the Pradhan Mantri Gramodaya Yojana (PMGY) for meeting cooking costs. In the revised Guidelines of 2004, contributions under PMGY were discontinued, but the central government began providing Re 1 per child per school day towards cooking costs. Note that these were previously supposed to be borne by state governments. Per child per day costs have been reported in Table 1.14

The responsibility of providing physical infrastructure lies with state governments. Physical infrastructure, as laid down in the guidelines, includes a kitchen-cum-store, adequate water supply for drinking and washing, cooking devices (stove), and utensils for cooking and serving.15 State governments can use funds from several centrally funded schemes for these purposes. For instance, Sampoorna Grameen Rozgar Yojana (SGRY) funds can be utilised for

Table 1: Nodal Department and Cooking Costs for Mid-Day Meals

State Main Implementing Agency Cooking Costs (Rs/child/day) Remuneration for Cooks
(Rs/month), Unless Specified Otherwise
Andhra Pradesh 2.00 (up to 50 children)
1.75 (51-100 children)
1.50 (>100 children)
Bihar Education department 1.64 2500
Chhattisgarh Education department 2.00 Rs 15 per day
Delhi MCD and NDMC 2.00
Gujarat Education department 2.44* 500 (organisers); 250 (cooks); 175 (helpers in rural areas).
1500, 800 and 500 respectively in urban areas
Haryana Directorate of elementary education 1.43 Rs 300-700 depending on child enrolment
Himachal Pradesh Dept. of elementary education 2.50* Between Rs 100 (for less than 5 children) and Rs 400 for more
than 271 children
Jharkhand Department of primary education 2.00
Jammu and Kashmir Education 1.02 500
Karnantaka School development and
management committee (SDMC) 1.58 650 (head cooks); 450 (cooks); 400 (assistant cooks);
300 (helpers)
Kerala Director of public instruction 3.00 500
Madhya Pradesh Panchayats and rural development 1.28 (rural) and 1.56 (urban), Rs 20 per day in rural areas and Rs 25 per day in urban areas
in non-tribal areas, department of in wheat-eating areas
tribal welfare in tribal areas and 1.14 (rural) and 1.27 (urban),
Department of urban administration in rice-eating areas
in urban areas.
Maharashtra Education department 1.75 (1-75 children)
1.50 (76-250 children)
1.25 (251 or more children)
Orissa - 2.82+ 200 (cooks) and 100 (helpers)
Punjab State monitoring committee 1.70
Rajasthan Rural development 2.00
Tamil Nadu Rural department 2.19 to 2.34 2105 (organisers), 1160 (cooks) and 880 (helpers)
Uttar Pradesh Basic education 1.57 Up to 800
Uttaranchal Education department 2.00 1-25 (Rs 250); 26-50 (Rs 350) and 51 (Rs 450); sahayika
(Rs 250)
West Bengal Education department 1.90 Rs 400 plus 10 paise per day per child

Notes: * Includes honorarium and administration costs.

+ Includes foodgrains, transport subsidy and establishment overheads.

Source: Data on cooking costs compiled from ‘National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2004 (Mid-Day Meal Scheme), annual work plan and budget 2006-07 framework”.

the construction of kitchen sheds in rural areas. Similarly, in urban areas funds available under the National Slum Development Programme or Urban Wage Employment Programme can be used for the construction of kitchen sheds. For drinking water, funds from SSA or Accelerated Rural Water Supply Programme can be utilised. Finally, utensils can be bought from the annual SSA school grant of Rs 2,000.

Management of the MDMS

The central guidelines allow state governments to manage the MDMS through a designated “nodal department”, such as school education, rural development, women and child development, or social welfare. Non-governmental organisations have also been permitted to be involved in the provision of MDMs.16 There are significant variations in management system across states.

Various management issues have emerged in recent studies, e g, irregular supplies,17 inadequate monitoring,18 incomplete reimbursement of fuel or transport costs,19 low and delayed remuneration of cooks and helpers, etc. Aside from disrupting MDMs, these hurdles create incentives for corruption. For example, inadequate transport funds create a temptation to recover the costs by selling some of the rice meant for children.20

In urban areas, a common approach is to cook the meals in centralised kitchens and transport them to the schools. Also, NGOs often provide the meals on a contract basis. This approach seems to work reasonably well in some cases.21 In some states (notably Rajasthan), the concept of public-private-partnerships for mid-day meals is taking root, especially in urban areas. However, these success stories may not reflect the general state of mid-day meals in urban areas. There is anecdotal evidence (e g, from media reports) of serious problems in the provision of mid-day meals in many urban areas, partly due to crowding, inadequate infrastructure and lack of hygiene. Public-private partnerships are

Table 2: Summary Findings of Field Studies of the MDMS

Study Details* Enrolment, Attendance, Infrastructure+ Parents/Teachers’ View Caste Discrimination Retention on MDMs

Lok Adhikar Network (LAN) 36 per cent for girls in C1 Cooks (all) – – Rajasthan (63 schools in 41 villages of Barmer) [October 2002]

Centre for equity studies (CES) 14.5 per cent increase Cooks (100 per cent) 91 per cent parents and 1 per cent of parents felt that Rajasthan, Karnataka, in C1 enrolment; Kitchen (17 per cent) 84 per cent teachers want their child had experienced any Chhattisgarh (81 villages, 19 per cent for girls Water (56 per cent) MDM to continue; discrimination at school at the 324 households, 9 districts) Storage shed (6 per cent) 86 per cent parents feel that time of the mid-day meal. [Early 2003] “quality of meal is satisfactory”

Indian Institute of Dalit Studies – – – 37 per cent report caste (IIDS) discrimination in MDMs; Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, 48 per cent report opposition Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, to dalit cooks, 9 per cent report Uttar Pradesh (531 villages, segregated meals and 30 districts) unfavourable treatment in the [April-June, 2003] food allotment.

Samaj Pragati Sansthan (SPS) 36 per cent increase in C1; Cooks (71 per cent) 96 per cent parents and 5 dalit cooks out of a total of 92 Madhya Pradesh (70 schools, 38 per cent for girls and Kitchens (7 per cent) 93 per cent teachers want 280 households, seven districts) 43 per cent for dalits; Water (66 per cent) MDM to continue [December 2004-January 2005] 15 per cent increase in Storage (14 per cent)

enrolment from class 1-5 Knife (51 per cent)

Chindwara survey – Kitchens (none) 60 per cent satisfied with – Madhya Pradesh (63 schools Water (all) daliya meal, 80 per cent with in Chindwara) Cooking utensils (all) suruchi bhojan [January-February 2004]

Pushpendra and Sood – Kitchens (1 out of 19) – – Bihar (19 schools, two districts) Water (7 out of 12) [December 2004 and February 2005]

Pratichi Trust (2004) Attendance up by (30 schools, 300 households 10 per cent in one district) [May 2004]

Sewa Mandir (2005) Three out of six teachers Cooks (7 out of 8) 13 per cent parents reported –

(8 schools, one district) recalled substantial Kitchens (none) that child had a stomach-ache increase in enrolment after consuming the meal; following introduction 96 per cent children like the of MDM; five out of eight school food. teachers reported “surge” in daily attendance attributed mainly to MDM

Collaborative research and Teachers and parents Inadequate water for 65 per cent parents felt that the No caste discrimination dissemination (CORD) reported that children attend drinking and washing meal should be continued reported (12 schools and 60 households) school more regularly hands before and after [Mid 2005] the meal

Notes: * The findings of LAN (2002) are available in Khera (2002), of CES (2003) in Drèze and Goyal (2003), of IIDS (2005) in Thorat and Lee (2005), of SPS in Jain and Shah (2005), of Chindwara (2005) in Afridi (2005), Pratichi Trust (2005) in Rana (2005), Sewa Mandir (2005) in Blue (2005) and of CORD (2005) in De, Samson and Noronha (2005).

+ Proportion reporting availability of particular infrastructure.

fraught with potential dangers, including the perverse influence of commercial lobbies and the possible use of mid-day meals as a platform for the pursuit of private agendas. These relatively new initiatives are spreading rapidly, but require close scrutiny and evaluation.22

Monitoring mechanisms vary across states. While some have tried to involve the community, it seems unlikely that monitoring by the community (generally the mothers) will be sufficient.23

Research Areas: Achievements and Problems

When the Supreme Court order of November 28, 2001 was issued it was hard to believe that even the most rudimentary infrastructure could be put in place in the so-called “BIMARU” states such as Bihar and Rajasthan.24 The fact that mid-day meals have become a part of the daily routine in most primary schools across the country is a major achievement.

Table 2 describes the studies on which this review of the MDMS is based.25 Most of these studies have been conducted in the period since the Supreme Court order was passed in 2001. Several of them used an adapted version of the questionnaire developed at the centre for equity studies (CES) for the first major survey of mid-day meals [Drèze and Goyal 2003]. Table 3 summarises the main findings of these studies.

Enrolment, Retention and Attendance

By all available accounts, the MDMS has led to a substantial increase in the enrolment of children in primary schools. In fact, several micro studies point to major increases in enrolment immediately after the introduction of mid-day meals. For instance, following the introduction of midday meals in Rajasthan in July 2002 a small study of 63 schools in the remote district of Barmer suggested a 23 per cent increase in the enrolment of children. The CES survey pointed to a 14.5 per cent increase in enrolment in class one; according to the Samaj Pragati Sahyog survey in 2005 by Jain and Shah (2005), there was a 36 per cent increase in class one enrolment in Madhya Pradesh in 2004. Naik (2005) also finds a drastic increase in enrolment in Karnataka.

Whether macro data confirm these gains in enrolment remains to be scrutinised. As Drèze (2006) notes, the increase recorded by micro-studies may be on the high side. Deaton and Drèze (2006) note that the consumption of mid-day meals in primary schools appears to be heavily underrecorded in the National Sample Survey (NSS) data, making it hard to verify the impact of MDMs on school attendance from NSS surveys.

Even more encouraging than the overall increase in enrolment figures is the increase in enrolment of girls. Drèze and Kingdon (2001) found convincing evidence for this based on household data pertaining to primary schooling in 1996. They found that the provision of mid-day meals, on average, halves the proportion of girls excluded from the schooling system (ibid:20). In most of the studies reviewed here, girls’ enrolment records a much higher increase than overall increase in enrolment. For instance, the Lok Adhikar Network study (in 2002) in Barmer records a 36 per cent increase in enrolment of girls. The CES survey in 2003 records a 19 per cent increase in enrolment of girls and the SPS survey in 2005 records a 38 per cent increase for girls.26 Thus, mid-day meals seem to make an important contribution to the reduction of gender bias in school participation.

Similarly, there is a greater impact on the enrolment of children from disadvantaged families: dalits, scheduled tribes, and the poor (Table 2). This is as one would expect since those are the families that need MDMs most.27 Poor working mothers are particularly happy with the programme as it frees them from the burden of feeding children during the day.28

Many of these studies also hint at an improvement in attendance rates as well as retention rates. However since both are difficult to measure, the evidence remains inconclusive.29

Nutritional and Health Impact

The nutritional impact of mid-day meals depends both on the quality and the quantity of food provided at school. These in turn depend inter alia on the budget, which affects the menu as well as cooking practices (e g, safety and hygiene).

According to the Supreme Court order, the school meal is supposed to provide 300 kCal and 8-10 gm of protein. On the quantity of food provided, there are two key issues:

(a) whether the SC order is being complied with; and (b) whether the quantities prescribed by the SC order are adequate. Some studies have noted that the amount of food provided by schools does not meet the SC norms [e g, the SPS in Jain and Shah 2005; CORD in De and Noronha 2005; Afridi 2005]. In Delhi, parents felt that the amount of food provided is very small (though children themselves were quite satisfied with the food being provided). In other places such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, there have been no complaints regarding the quantity of food provided to children.

Another concern regarding the quantity of food is that the needs of a class one child are very different from those of a class five child.30 However, this has not been taken into account while fixing the quantity of food provided to children.31 Though many studies report that children are getting their fill (even though it may not be the amount stipulated by the Supreme Court order), generally there is no uniform rule to ensure the equitable distribution of food.32 For instance, in Delhi children belonging to lower grades are given food first and are consciously served less (because they are smaller and because teachers do not want food to run out). The possibility of a shortage arises because food is cooked in centralised kitchens based on attendance records of the previous day.

The quality of the meal is the main remaining challenge as far as the MDMS is concerned. Reports of children being taken ill after consuming the mid-day meal have occasionally made headlines in various parts of the country.33 Besides these occasional incidents, nutritive value of the meal needs to be monitored carefully. This depends on the menu as well as cooking practices in schools.

When states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh began providing cooked mid-day meals, they were providing the same dull meal every day – ‘ghooghri’ in Rajasthan and ‘dalia’ in Madhya Pradesh. These preparations amount to nothing more than cooking wheat and serving it with either salt or sugar. However, most states have gradually moved away from monotonous and unappetising meals.34

Bringing in a varied menu was one of the big challenges for many states when the programme was initiated. The two main problems were lack of adequate staff for preparing the meal and the lack of adequate funds. For instance, Jain and Shah (2005) find that the assumptions regarding prices of vegetables and dals while fixing the budget are “absurd”. The budgeted cost of dals is Rs 25/kg whereas a more realistic price according to them would be Rs 30-35/kg.

This meant that smaller quantities than required are bought and children get watery dal or just potatoes in lieu of vegetables.35

Even with a varied menu, the question remains so as to how mid-day meals fare in terms of nutritive content. For instance, to what extent do they meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for children in that age group? As far as I know, only one study [Afridi 2005] has attempted the complex task of assessing the calorie and protein content of the school meal. Afridi’s study is based on samples of food taken from 63 schools from 35 panchayats in one block of Chindwara (Madhya Pradesh). She finds that a varied menu performs much better in terms of meeting the RDA than the dalia meal. The Suruchi Bhojan programme, which provides for a varied menu, meets close to a fifth (22 per cent) of a child’s RDA in terms of calories. The dalia meets only 11 per cent of a child’s RDA, in terms of actual intake.36

The net impact of a MDM on the child’s health is ultimately determined by whether the meal is a supplement (a net addition) or a substitute for food intake at home, in terms of both quality and quantity. If the mid-day meal is largely a substitute for home food, the nutritional impact may not be large. It may even be negative, if the quality of the school meal is inferior to what would have been consumed at home in the absence of a school meal, and if the consumption of nutritious home food declines as a result of having eaten at school. Blue (2005) finds that in the Udaipur district the school meal is a substitute for home food. Insofar as the MDM is a substitute, the case for nutritious meals at school is even stronger. The issue of supplement versus substitute is not easy to disentangle and requires information on eating habits of children before and after MDMs were introduced. Not many have studied this aspect.37

Finally, the net nutritional effect is likely to vary with the economic background of the child’s family. The supplement element is likely to be larger for poorer families. As we go up the income scale, the meal becomes more a substitute than a supplement. In both cases, there is a need to improve the quality – as the “supplement” element goes down, quality becomes more important for to have a nutritional impact. Further, quality is extremely important for poor children anyway.

Improving the nutritional content of midday meals and providing a varied and interesting menu are not only worthwhile ends in themselves but contribute to the acceptability of commensality amongst upper class and caste parents. For instance, Afridi (2005) finds that 6 per cent of parents stated “intermingling of castes” as a reason for being dissatisfied with the MDM where dalia was served, whereas no parent cited this as a reason for being dissatisfied with the meal in schools where the suruchi bhojan was being served.38

Provision of micro-nutrients (such as iron, vitamin A and iodine) and deworming tablets are other simple and low-cost health interventions that can be fruitfully combined with the MDMS. In fact, this is being done in a few states such as Gujarat and Tamil Nadu and is now beginning to receive attention in many other states.39 The issue of micronutrient supplements, however, needs further discussion insofar as nutrients such as zinc are concerned. 40

Socialisation and Educational Benefits

The socialisation benefits of MDMs can also be substantial, though these seem to have taken a backseat as the nuts and bolts of putting the system in place have been the main preoccupation of the administration.41 MDMs can play a role in eroding caste prejudices and nurturing a culture of social equality, as children from different class and caste backgrounds share a meal together.

Having said this, there are reports of caste discrimination in MDMs. Aside from undermining the socialisation role of midday meals, caste prejudices can derail the whole scheme (e g, when upper-caste parents object to the provision of cooked meals at school). Two distinct forms of caste discrimination have been reported: one, of discrimination against children on the basis of their caste (or religion), and two, discrimination against cooks.

There have been several anecdotal reports of discrimination against children in the MDMS. The study by Thorat and Lee (2005) is among the few whose focus was on access among dalits. They find that, in Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, access to MDMs for dalit children is hampered by the fact that the meals are served primarily in dominant caste hamlets. In addition, they find that apart from outright exclusion (e g, dalit children being denied access to the MDM), there are also instances of discrimination (e g, segregated seating, or different food being served to children of different castes). In Bihar, plates were labelled with the initial of the child’s caste; in Rajasthan, children from the “lower” castes had to be given water by other children, whereas the other children were allowed to help themselves to the water directly.42

There have been widespread reports of discrimination against dalits and other minorities in the appointment of cooks. Jain and Shah (2005) report that even in Tikamgarh, where dalits form 24 per cent of the population and where there is a shortage of cooks, not a single dalit cook has been appointed.43

There has been some opposition to MDMs on the grounds that they detract from the teaching activities at school.44 However, as Drèze and S Vivek (2002) point out, MDMs allow teaching activities to continue in schools as in many cases, hungry children who go home for lunch do not return after their break. Further, Drèze (2004) stresses the fact that education must not be viewed in the narrow sense of imparting formal education. Midday meals also provide an opportunity to impart education regarding healthy eating habits (e g, washing one’s hands before eating or nutritive content of various foods).45 Good MDMs also encourage education activities at school to the extent that they make the school environment more inviting for children.

Infrastructure Issues

A good MDM programme requires sound infrastructure. This includes physical infrastructure such as water supply, kitchen sheds and storage facilities. Adequate staff is also needed for organising and cooking the meal as well as for serving it to the children. The lack of adequate infrastructure undermines the objectives of the MDMS in two ways: one, by causing obstructions in the teaching activities in school and two, by reducing the nutritive impact of the meal. Adequate infrastructure is also very important for safety and hygiene.

As we have seen in Table 2, various field studies find that the provision of infrastructure remains a big challenge. Table 3 reports the availability of kitchens, water and utensils based on latest data provided by the state governments.

(a) Water facilities: Clean water is essential for cooking a safe and healthy meal, as well as for washing hands and utensils before and after the meal. The lack of water on the premises also leads to disruption of teaching activities, as children may be asked to fetch water for cooking, or may have to leave the school premises to wash their hands before and after the meal.

Many of the earlier surveys of MDMS found that water facilities were inadequate. In some cases, children were being asked to fetch water for cooking from the nearest water source.46 Once the meal was served, if water was not available in (or near) the school premises, then children would wander off either to drink water or to clean their utensils.

It is encouraging to note that the more recent studies, especially those conducted in 2005, have found that many state governments have woken up to the need for providing water facilities near schools (Table 2).47 Table 3 which reports availability of water on school premises confirms that there has been an improvement in the availability of water sources on school premises.

(b) Kitchen sheds and storage facilities: Cooking sheds or kitchens are essential to ensure that the preparation of the meal does not disrupt classroom activity - either due to the smoke or to the distraction caused by the preparation of food.48 Kitchen sheds are still lacking in a majority of schools, though again there are interstate variations. In many of the north Indian states, the norm is still to cook in the open, in a makeshift space, at the house of the cook, or in one of the classrooms.49 Here too, field reports indicate rapid improvements in the recent past, though these are yet to be reflected in the data provided by state governments. In Tamil Nadu where secondary data and field reports suggest that all schools have kitchens, second generation issues have arisen. Swaminathan et al (2004: 4819) find that as there is no provision for maintenance of buildings, none had been painted a second time. In some schools, “broken doors and windows enable free entry for men and cattle alike; floors are often broken”.

Adequate storage facilities are important to prevent the decay, contamination or pilferage of food. As Pushpendra and Sood (2005) find, since there were no storage facilities in one of the sample schools the rice was stored in the house of the president of the village education committee (VEC). This meant that rice had to be brought to school each day and it made monitoring the quantity more difficult. Given the absence of kitchens in most schools, to ask for storage facilities may seem like a tall order. However, some areas have overcome this problem with the help of community donations (in cash or kind).

(c) Staff for management of meals: Provision of adequate staff for providing the meal on a daily basis is crucial to ensure that meals can be provided in a regular and timely fashion and so that already overburdened teachers are not diverted into supervising the mid-day meal. Besides this, adequate staff to take care of the cooking means that the daily routine of the school will not be affected by the MDM. It is essential to have enough staff. This issue has been raised in several studies and newspaper reports.50

When state governments began complying with the SC order on the provision of MDMs, many were unable to appoint cooks because of lack of time or funds. Before cooks were appointed in schools, instances of children being asked to fetch water or wood (or even to help in the cooking itself) were not uncommon.51 In a few cases, there were reports of teachers cooking the meals themselves. However, these scenes are a thing of the past in most of the country.

Adequate staff does not mean the provision of just one cook. What is required is something similar to the Gujarat or Karnataka model where three persons are employed for the provision of the MDM: an organiser, a cook and a helper. The responsibilities of the organiser include sending a request for grain (in advance) to the concerned authorities, procuring other cooking materials, measuring and issuing the amount required for any particular day, maintaining accounts and so on. In the absence of an organiser often it is the teacher who is expected to accomplish this task. For instance, in Bihar, Pushpendra and Sood (2005) found that teachers had to procure the rice from the block office.

A related issue is that of the rules regarding appointment of cooks, helpers and organisers. According to the Supreme Court’s order dated April 20, 2004, in the appointment of cooks, preference is to be given to women and dalits. However, most studies indicate that these norms are not being followed, and furthermore, that there are no clear guidelines for the appointment of cooks and helpers.52 A few studies have shown that the lack of appointment norms leads to some friction and to disruption of the MDM programme.

Another pertinent issue is that of remuneration to cooks. Often, cooks and helpers are paid less than the statutory minimum wage (Table 1). For instance, in Gujarat the organiser (the highest paid in the MDM team) gets Rs 500 per month; in Chhattisgarh, cooks are paid Rs 300 per month. In Rajasthan, in 2002, cooks were paid according to the number of children present.53 However, these costs did not

Table 3: Infrastructural indicators, 2003

State Proportion (Per Cent) of Schools witha:

Separate Kitchen Water Supply Cooking Utensils

Andhra Pradesh 26 (20) 44 (64) 10 (100) Arunachal Pradesh 4 100 100 Assam 34 (52) 98 (80) 100 (100) Bihar 5 (8) 68 (75) 79 (82) Chhattisgarh 17 (28) 81 (87) 100 (100) Goa 19 100 100 Gujarat 28 (34) 0 (100) 0 (100) HP (0) (82) 100 Haryana 2 100 (100) 100 (100) Jharkhand 16 (14) 71 (52) 100 (100 Karnataka 41 (70) 67 (76) 33 (100) Kerala (88) (100) (100) Madhya Pradesh 3 (7) 80 (77) 100 (100) Maharashtra 2 (6) 25 (76) 13 (8) Mizoram 16 51 100 Nagaland ‘Not needed’b N/A 100 Orissa (42) (73) -Punjab (0) (100) -Rajasthan (0) (75) (40 and 33) Tamil Nadu 100 (95) 100 (100) 100 (100) Uttar Pradesh (74) (89) -Uttaranchal 98 (100) 85 (99) 98 West Bengal -(30) -(68)

a Figures in brackets indicate the relevant proportions for 2005.

b According to the state government (on the grounds that cooking has been outsourced to village education committees).

Source: Commissioners to the Supreme Court (2005) for figures pertaining to 2003 and ‘National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2004 (Mid-Day Meal Scheme), Annual Work Plan and Budget’.

account for the fact that the cooks were spending time on collecting firewood or water as well.54Given that organisers, cooks and helpers spend up to five hours in the preparation of the meal, it is necessary to pay them adequately. Adequate remuneration is also important to avoid corruption in mid-day meal schemes. When cooks, helpers and organisers are not paid properly, they are bound to be tempted to recoup costs by siphoning off food or other items.

(d) Cooking and serving utensils: Since children usually eat in their own plates or bowls (brought from home), the size of individual portions may depend on the size of their plates. Some studies (such as SPS 2005) have noted that in the absence of bowls or plates some children may use a leaf or a piece of paper torn from their notebooks (or, in rare cases, textbooks!) as a plate, in which case they are bound to get very little.55

III Tamil Nadu and Gujarat56

As noted earlier, some states have gone beyond mere compliance with SC orders on mid-day meals. Notable among these are Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. I briefly highlight here some of the unique features and improvements that can be found in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu.57 First among the achievements of these two states is that mid-day meals were initiated well before the national scheme was launched in 1995. Tamil Nadu’s MDMS has a long history: in 1956, mid-day meals were already provided to two lakh children. In 1982, Maruthur Gopalan Ramachandran (“MGR”, the then chief minister of the state) extended the scheme to cover all primary-school children and also preschoolers. In Gujarat, the scheme began on an experimental basis in the 1960s and all students in the 6-11 age group have been covered since 1984.58 Further, both states have gone beyond the necessary coverage as required by the central norms: in Tamil Nadu, beneficiaries include children between the ages of two to five years and older school children up to the age of 15 years. In 1983, old age pensioners were included, in 1995 pregnant women were brought under the scheme. Widows and destitute persons are also entitled to midday meals in Tamil Nadu. In Gujarat, the state provides cooked meals to children from grade one to grade seven.

A noteworthy feature of the MDMS in these two states is the administrative arrangements that have been put in place. In Gujarat, at the state level, an officer of the rank of commissioner manages the MDMS. The commissioner is assisted by two assistant commissioners (one for implementation and another for administration) and a deputy commissioner. The commissioner coordinates the work between the concerned departments (i e, education, revenue and health and civil supplies). At the district level, the district collector is responsible for the scheme. The day-to-day functioning of the scheme is the responsibility of a deputy collector (MDM), who is assisted by the district primary education officer.

Another factor that helps the smooth functioning of the scheme in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu is that there is adequate staff at the school level to provide the meal.59 As mentioned above, a team of three is appointed at the school level – an organiser, a cook and a helper. This means that teachers are free to teach and are required to perform only a supervisory role.

The meal in Gujarat consists of wheat (50 gm), rice (50 gm), pulses (20 gm), vegetables and condiments (50 gm), and edible oil (10 gm), with a calorie content of 450 kCal. This is more than what is stipulated by the SC order of November 2001. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu, the calorie content of the mid-day meal ranges from 358 kCal for children aged two to four years to 504 kCal for those aged 13-15 years. Children are provided eggs or ‘sattu’ once a fortnight.60

Finally, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu are pioneers in the practice of combining the MDM with some health interventions. This includes micronutrient supplementation (primarily vitamin A and iron) and deworming tablets.61 In addition to this, in Tamil Nadu children benefit from regular health check-ups and free treatment of certain illnesses.62

IV Concluding Remarks

Though India’s mid-day meal programme has travelled a long way from its “non-starter” start in 1995, and has overcome many of the teething problems that arose after the Supreme Court order in 2001, this review makes it clear that there is still a long road ahead. Foremost among the issues that need to be tackled is the quality of the meal. This in turn depends on the norms that are set by the government as well as on the conditions in which the meal is prepared. The fact that there has been a steady trend of improvement over time – in terms of infrastructure, financial allocations and (more recently) food quality – gives reason for hope for further improvements.

Even in its basic form, when children were provided only dalia, the mid-day meal programme had a substantial impact on improving enrolment in schools. It is especially encouraging to note that the most significant increase in enrolment was amongst children from disadvantaged groups including girls, dalits and the poor. Anecdotal evidence of improvement in attendance and retention suggests that the MDMS could have important spillovers on educational outcomes as well. The impact of MDMs on attendance and retention, however, needs to be examined more closely. The case for further improvements in the MDMS is strengthened even more when we take into account the potential nutritional and socialisation benefits of such a programme.

Another point worth highlighting concerns the politics of school meals. In many states, improvements in the MDMS are closely linked to an increased political interest in the scheme. This has been on account of a realisation among political leaders of the popularity and potential votewinning power of mid-day meals. This was true in Tamil Nadu, especially in the years when the MDMS was launched. More recently, in states such as Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan the keen personal interest of the political class has played a key role in recent initiatives to improve mid-day meals.

This steady trend of improvement and dynamism in policy-making has been evident in recent months too. Some of the most recent changes include an increase in per child financial and calorie norms, introduction of a varied menu in many more states as also of micronutrient supplementation through the MDMS. State governments are more receptive to the demand for more cooks and helpers to ensure smooth functioning of the programme. Greater attention and funds are being directed towards improving the physical infrastructure for the scheme. Another recent area of innovation has been in monitoring and evaluation, involving improved data collection as well as some attempts to involve mother’s committees, self-help groups and other community institutions.

In the end, the success of the programme will depend on continued public participation and vigilance as well as sustained political interest in the scheme. The tremendous popularity of the scheme, especially among the underprivileged, is perhaps the best guarantee of continued debate and initiative in this field.

EPW

Email: reetika.khera@gmail.com

Notes

[This review paper was written for a seminar on ‘Universalising Elementary Education in India: Challenges, Experiences and Emerging Policy Issues’, June 16-17, 2006, organised by the Institute for Human Development. I would like to thank the seminar organisers, Preet Rustagi and Alakh Sharma. I would also like to thank Jean Drèze, Nandini Nayak and Meera Samson for insightful comments and suggestions and Arudra Burra for editorial improvements. Biraj Patnaik and Vandana Bhatia at the office of the commissioners in the right to food case, kindly provided access to useful government documents.]

1 The official name of this scheme is National Programme of Nutritional Support for Primary Education, but it is widely known as “Mid-Day Meal Scheme” and the same term will be used in this paper.

2 Janaki Rajan cited in Drèze and Goyal (2003). See also Rana (2005), p 7.

3 For instance, Zaidi (2005) reports that in Navi Mumbai and Orissa the introduction of MDMS has had an impact on child labour as well. See also Setia (2006) on this point. See Drèze and Goyal (2003), Government of India (2004), and De, Noronha and Samson (2005) for further discussion of the potential benefits of mid-day meals.

4 “Dry rations” refer to the practice of giving uncooked wheat or rice on a monthly basis, often based on the attendance of a pupil. Children received three kg of foodgrain per month if they had 80 per cent attendance in school.

5 “Right to food case” refers to a public interest litigation officially known as People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India and Others, Writ Petition (Civil) No 196 of 2001. The order on mid-day meals applies to government and government-aided schools. For further details, see www.righttofoodindia.org.

6 Many of these studies are available online under the “Mid-day Meals” section of the right to food campaign website, www.righttofoodindia.org.

7 See chart in Drèze and Goyal (2003: 4676) for the status of implementation of the MDMS in 2003.

8 See Khera (2005) for more on the campaign for the implementation of the Supreme Court order.

9 See Right to Food Campaign (2005).

10 The eight states where the Scheme was not fully implemented were Assam, Bihar, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal.

11 See Commissioners of the Supreme Court (2005) in the right to food case. Available online at http://www.righttofoodindia.org/ comrs/comrs_reports.html.

12 See Government of India (2004), p 2.

13 There was a ceiling of Rs 50 per quintal on the transport subsidy from 1997 to 2004. In the revised guidelines issued in 2004, this was increased to Rs 75 per quintal (GoI 1997: pp 2 and 6).

14 The central government’s contribution was recently raised to Rs 1.50 per child per day, on the understanding that the state government makes a matching contribution of at least 50 paise per child per day.

15 Children are usually expected to bring their own bowls or plates.

16 For further details, see the Report of the committee on mid-day meals, 1995, Department of Education available online at http:// www.education.nic.in/cd50years/r/2V/7B/ 2V7B0501.htm.

17 See Pushpendra and Sood (2005), Rana (2005) among others.

18 See Drèze and Goyal (2003), Ghosh (2006), Pushpendra and Sood (2005) on this.

19 See Zaidi (2005).

20 See Zaidi (2005) for one such report from Palashguri in Assam, Pushpendra and Sood (2005) for a similar story from Supaul (Bihar).

21 In Delhi, the suppliers are closely regulated and supervised [De, Noronha and Samson 2005]. See also, Naandi Foundation in Hyderabad (see www.naandi.org) and Akshay Patra (http:/ /www.akshayapatra.org/).

22 See Gangadharan (2006) who recommends a major overhaul of the management structure in Kerala based on the experience of Rajasthan and Karnataka.

23 See Indian Express (2006), The Telegraph (2006a) and Zaidi (2005). On the crucial role of the district administration in monitoring, see Menon (2003) and Afridi (2005), p 1530.

24 See Jain and Shah (2005), p 5082.

25 Many of these studies are available on the website of the “right to food campaign” (www.righttofoodindia.org), along with related material on mid-day meals.

26 There is one important caveat. The government’s enrolment drives, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and other state-specific drives such as ‘Shiksha Aapke Dwar’ in Rajasthan, also began around the same time, so it is difficult to disentangle the effect of MDMS on enrolment from the effect of these drives.

27 One of the attractive features of the MDMS is that it combines universal entitlement with an element of self-selection since children who attend government schools tend to come from disadvantaged families.

28 See Drèze (2003).

29 According to a newspaper report by Ghosh (2006), regular attendance has grown by 15-20 per cent in UP since the introduction of the MDM. See also Menon (2003), Rather (2006) and Zaidi (2005).

30 On this, see Jain and Shah (2005), p 5083).

31 Tamil Nadu is an exception – see Section III for a discussion. A recent discussion paper of the government of India, MDM division reports that under the revised MDM programme of 2006, the quantities are being increased to 450 cal with 12 gm of protein (p 13). Also, it proposes to provide 700 cal and 20 gm of protein for upper-primary school children (p 21).

32 Jain and Shah (2005) find that the quantity of food cooked is inadequate in one of the seven districts surveyed. In general, they report a “great sloppiness in determining the quantities to be cooked” (p 5083). Blue (2005) reports that though the quantity distributed “appeared to be smaller” than 100 gm, out of 67 children who were interviewed, 52 said that the “school meals filled them up”.

33 See Menon (2003), Khan (2006), Seth (2005) and Sharma (2005) among others. An impressive collection of newspaper reports (in Hindi) on food poisoning and other “mid-day meal incidents” in Uttar Pradesh (which has one of the worst mid-day meal schemes in India) is available from the dynamic action group in Lucknow.

34 The annual plans for the states give a detailed account of the menu that is to be served. During a recent field trip to Jashpur (Chhattisgarh), many children told us with glee that they “got everything” in school – “eggs, papad-achar, dal, rice”. See Mascarenhas (2006) on Maharashtra and Afridi (2005) for details of the “Suruchi Bhojan” in Madhya Pradesh.

35 See also Zaidi (2005) on this point.

36 The reference age group here is five to six years. In the case of girls aged 10-12 years, the Suruchi Bhojan provided 18 per cent of RDA whereas the dalia meal provides only 9 per cent of RDA.

37 In the CORD survey, parents also reported boys eating at the school and then going home to eat some more. Few girls ate nothing before or after school. See also Drèze and Goyal (2003) and Drèze and S Vivek (2002).

38 See also Rana (2005), p 11.

39 For instance, the annual work plan of Andhra Pradesh states that micronutrients and deworming tablets are provided. Madhya Pradesh also provides iron and folic acid supplements and deworming tablets; vitamin A is being considered.

40 See Gopaldas (2006) on the case for micronutrients. For a word of caution, see Drèze (2006).

41 See Drèze and Goyal (2003) and De, Noronha and Samson (2005).

42 See Pushpendra and Sood (2005), Drèze and Goyal (2003), Menon (2003).

43 On this, see also Pushpendra and Sood (2005).

44 See Singh (2004) for a comment on the potentially harmful effect of MDMS on teaching activities.

45 Indeed, some NCERT textbooks have recently incorporated such practical information.

46 MKSS study in Kelwara. See also Jain and Shah (2005).

47 See Afridi (2005), p 1531 and Swaminathan et al (2004), p 4819.

48 For instance, Afridi (2005) reports that meals in Chhindwara (MP) are cooked in the classrooms and the smoke distracts students from their learning activities.

49 See Afridi (2005), Blue (2005), Drèze and Goyal (2003), Jain and Shah (2005), p 5083.

50 See Blue (2005), Drèze and Goyal (2003), Jain and Shah (2005), Pushpendra and Sood (2004), Rather (2006) and The Telegraph (2006b).

51 See Afridi (2005), Blue (2005) and Khera (2002).

52 In others, such as Tamil Nadu detailed norms have been developed. Posts of cooks are advertised, only women are eligible, widows, deserted women and destitute are given preference. The age limit is 35-40 years, relaxed for widows. Cooks should be able to read and write.

53 See also Jain and Shah (2005) who report the same practice in Madhya Pradesh.

54 See Swaminathan et al (2004), p 4819.

55 I have observed this practice in many parts of Rajasthan.

56 This section relies primarily of the MDM website of the government of Gujarat, Drèze and Goyal (2003), and Rajivan (2005).

57 Tamil Nadu’s experience is relatively well documented; see e g, Drèze and Goyal (2003), Pratap (2003), Rajivan (2005), Rao (2004), and the literature cited there. Gujarat’s achievements are more recent and have received less attention.

58 See http://gujarateducation.gswan.gov.in/ schools/mdm.htm

59 Karnataka is another state that shares this feature.

60 The practice of serving eggs once a fortnight has been introduced in Chhattisgarh as well.

61 Again this practice is found in Karnataka as well.

62 See Drèze and Goyal (2003); also Times of India (2006) on a similar initiative in Chandigarh.

References

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