Mid day meal scheme was started in 1995 with the prime objective of improving the nutritional status of school going children and has the provision of supplying free lunch on school (working) days for children in primary and upper primary classes in Government aided, schools and the like supported under ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.’ Nearly with more than 12 crore children in over 13 lac schools and Education Guarantee Scheme centers, the mid day meal scheme has the distinction of being the largest such programme in the world. The scheme has undergone several improvements and modifications with intent to make it more purposeful and beneficial for the school going children to attain the desired nutritional food levels.
It has, however, been observed that various leakages persist in the present system of providing mid- day meal in Jammu and Kashmir State and concrete efforts to plug them are nowhere to be observed which were expected with high hopes under the present dispensation. It appears, with this utter casual approach, that the very basic purpose of the scheme is at the threshold of getting defeated.
It is no blanket criticism but the weaknesses in the system have been persistent and acknowledged by the Government and expressed the same in unequivocal terms during the Budget Session of State Legislature held in the month of January this year. It was officially stated that the existing institutional arrangements have failed to fully and effectively stop the leakages in the implementation of this scheme of no less importance. The system could not get tuned to the demanding requirements despite pooling of resources by the School Education and Social Welfare Departments.
When teachers, who must devote their time towards teaching children and striving to mould their personalities and mental faculties in the school, are asked to manage this meal scheme, it taxes heavily their teaching hours. They are not supposed to handle a job for which they have no expertise and which can be at the cost of their basic duty to teach and impart knowledge at a stage when they need to work hard as concepts and elementary ideas are going to be implanted in primary and middle class students to enable them have better understanding of subjects in their future journey of academics.
The moot question, however, is which concrete steps have been taken in this regard by the Government? Why are not those in charge of running such scheme gaining experience from how other states in the country are running the programme successfully and which are the areas in our system that give hiccups to its smooth handling. We cannot afford to be casual in respect of this important school meal programme which even has a legal backing? Why is there no annual appraisal being done and formulating measures within the system which could make some difference? Can the handling of the programme be outsourced without disturbing the equations of teaching and other activities in respective schools? The idea behind ameliorating the below average nutritional food status levels of the under privileged, marginalized and other groups, has to be the guiding force which cannot otherwise afford a normal nutritional food for the children at home.
It is learnt that the Government had proposed the scheme to be managed by some NGOs in Jammu and Samba districts on pilot basis. Even village committees and Social Welfare and School Education Departments could also be considered for the job. NGO like Akshay Patra Foundation, serving such meals to around 17 lac students in a number of states could also be considered. No headway is made nor is any seriousness or urgency depicted in the approach of the Government in addressing the issue of much importance. Can we, now expect action beyond on papers only?