Mid Day Meal scheme

Mid Day Meal scheme is a prestigious scheme floated by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD). It is a national scheme of big magnitude. The essential purpose has been to provide healthy and nutritious diet to the school going kids and also to take care of their health by arranging health check up under defined conditions. Although the HRD Ministry is financing the scheme, yet it has laid down strict norms in each and every aspect of the scheme and has advised the Education Departments of the States to implement the scheme strictly in accordance with the instructions conveyed. Actually, the scheme is part of overall policy of the Government to give succour to the below poverty line students whose parents cannot afford healthy and nutritious food for their wards.
The Ministry of HRD has recently issued a report  reflecting the plus and minus points in regard to implementation of the MDM scheme by the Department of Education in J&K State. In an overall estimation, the HRD Ministry is not happy with the performance of the State Education Department and has brought the same to the notice of the Government. The report says that out of 22 districts, the scheme works in only 4 districts of the State and for the rest 18 districts the situation is far from satisfactory. In the areas of utilization of food grains, payment to the Food Corporation of India, transportation allowances, availability of drinking water and toilets, the State Education Department has performed more or less. But there are other important areas in which there is large scale deficiency. These are coverage of children (average number of children availing Mid-Day Meal scheme), working days, cooking cost utilization and honorarium paid to cook-cum-helpers. Conspicuously, in respect of coverage meaning the number of student beneficiaries of the scheme has not increased and that is a matter of grave concern. HRD Ministry wants that the covering should be adequately improved and larger number of students need to be brought under the scheme. Better performance in just four out of twenty-two districts cannot be considered full success of the scheme in J&K State. The document states that the common complaint of the State Education Department is that funds are not released by the Finance Department in time and that causes obstruction in smooth implementation of the scheme. At least four to six months delay in releasing the payment is the main source of sluggish movement of the scheme. It is sad that while the Ministry of HRD is providing funds for the scheme, the State Government obstructs timely release of funds. The standing instructions of the HRD Ministry are that funds should be released by the Finance Department to the School Education Department within fifteen days of the receipt of funds from the HRD Ministry.
Apart from this, there are other grave deficiencies that the Education Department is not trying to redress. The Union Ministry’s report observes that J&K is not mounting attention on testing of food samples so as to ensure that hygienic and nutritional food is served to the children under the Mid Day Meal scheme. Though the School Education Department of J&K has the option of testing of food samples in convergence with the State Health Department in the absence of accredited labs but the same alternative has not been availed till date. The importance of this preventive measure is to be understood by the fact that there is danger of food poisoning in case the food served is not hygienic. Nobody is allowed to risk the lives of kids by serving them untested food. Similarly in respect of health checkup of the kids the report notices that only 48 per cent of the total coverage has been provided health-check during the current financial year. This is a matter of concern and speaks volumes about the irresponsibility and lack of a sense of duty among the school authorities. Another glaring deficiency is that out of 11815 sanctioned kitchen-cum-stores, 7118 (60%) have been constructed till date and in remaining 4697 (40%) the construction work could not be started and the same has been attributed to high cost of construction. Ministry has taken a serious note of it and has taken an overall decision not to release funds any more if these deficiencies are not removed within the stipulated time.
The subject of Mid Day Meals and various problems connected with it in our State has been touched upon a number of times in these columns. Yet there is no sign of improvement. Obviously, the State will be losing the financial assistance committed by the Centre if things do not improve. Somebody is to be held responsible and it is the job of the Government to identify that somebody and take necessary steps.

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