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What to Know about India’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme

India's Mid-Day Meal Scheme
India aimed to address hunger among students through its mid-day meal scheme, officially implemented in 1995 to feed 120 million children studying in government-funded schools, making it the “world’s largest school food program.” India’s mid-day meal scheme, now known as Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman Yojna (PM Poshan), is a central government scheme with the objective to reduce hunger and malnutrition among children. The PM Poshan scheme already covers more than 1.2 million schools and provides one daily hot meal to pre-primary children and students from classes one to eight.

History and Objectives

The central government under the prime ministership of P.V. Narasimha Rao launched India’s mid-day meal scheme on August 15, 1995, as the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (now PM Poshan). The scheme aimed to feed impoverished children enrolled in government schools. One of the main objectives of the scheme was to reduce child malnutrition in India, which, at that time, accounted for 40% of the globe’s malnourished children. The mid-day meal scheme also aimed to encourage children from poor backgrounds and disadvantaged sections to attend school.

However, the history of the mid-day meal scheme goes back to the 1920s when the Chennai Corporation Council passed a resolution approving a proposal for providing ‘tiffin,’ or a light meal, to children of a local school. The ‘tiffin’ scheme has been a success — the school noticed a rise in attendance rates.

The PM Poshan meal scheme, which received approval on September 29, 2021, will run until 2026. This new version of the mid-day meal scheme also benefits about 120 million children.

Program Challenges

The mid-day meal scheme has faced some challenges. for instance, due to caste discrimination in some rural areas, upper-caste parents and students would refuse to eat meals prepared by a lower-caste cook. Low quality and minimal quantities of food also stood as an issue, among several other challenges.

Poor hygienic practices during food preparation and food contamination have led to the deaths of several students across several schools. Most recently, in January 2023, several children at a school in West Bengal had to go to the hospital after consuming a mid-day meal that allegedly contained the body of a snake.

Regardless of these challenges, with a commitment on the part of the government to sufficiently monitor the program and put in place protocols and standards to address the issues, the continuing program has the potential to bring benefits to India’s most disadvantaged children.

Revised Guidelines

The government of India released extensive guidelines on the mid-day meal scheme in December 2022 to address the issues the program has run into. In particular, the government sets out guidelines regarding the quality and safety aspects of the scheme. For instance, the government directs that meals be nutritious and well-balanced and has increased the production cost of meals to ensure meals of higher quality and quantity.

The protocols include specific rules regarding storage, handling and preparation of food to reduce the risk of contamination. The teachers must also taste the food before serving it to learners and must keep a log book in this regard.

Furthermore, “hot cooked meals provided to children shall be evaluated and certified by the Government Food Research Laboratory or any laboratory accredited or recognized by law, so as to ensure that the meal meets with the nutritional standards and quality specified,” the guidelines direct. Specific hygiene and cleanliness regulations apply to kitchen personnel and kitchen premises. Furthermore, schools must take pest control measures to ensure kitchens are pest-free.

Positive Outcomes

According to a December 2021 press release by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, India’s food and nutrition programs have led to a reduction in malnourishment among children under 5 from 38.4% to 32.1% by 2021.

The program hires women from the community to fulfill the roles of the kitchen staff as of way of empowering women and reducing local unemployment rates. The scheme promotes community engagement with the mothers of the students watching and overseeing the feeding of their children. Mothers can also give their suggestions to improve the meal program. The program terms this “Mothers Watch.” This has also helped to reduce caste bias as it gives employment opportunities to Dalit (lowest class) women, making them crucial contributors to the program.

Looking Forward

The mid-day meal scheme provides a daily dose of nutrition to school children. The former vice-president of India, Venkaiah Naidu, also suggested adding milk to the lunch menu to add more nutritional value to the meal. Moreover, the government of India plans to allocate more than Rs 110 billion to PM Poshan for the financial years 2023-24.

India’s mid-day meal scheme, now PM Poshan, tremendously supports health, nutrition and education among underprivileged children by fighting classroom hunger.

– Aanchal Mishra
Photo: Pixabay