Mid-day meal schemethrough Panchayats

Amuch desired nutritious promise to boostlearning , the mid-day meal scheme in theState of Jammu and Kashmir, has oftenbeen seen running in rough weathers so far as itsimplementation and wide coverage of targetedstudents were concerned. There are various rea-sons which when compared with other States,cannot be all similar in structure and form , the fact, however, is that the coverage of children contin-ues to be unsatisfactory at both the primary andthe upper primary levels. As per available data ,the percentage of coverage fell by 55 and 59 percent in years 2016-17 and 2017-18 respectivelywhich augurs well , not in the least, in respect ofthe implementation of providing a wholesomecooked meal to school going children of agegroup of between 6 and 14 years studying inGovernment schools and Government aidedschools in primary and upper primary classes.Could the desired results be achieved byinvolving Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), theSchool Education Department had desired so, asin its implementation, most of the teaching staffwas getting involved affecting the basic area ofeducation in the process. Accordingly, the notifi-cation issued by it last month has been endorsedand confirmed by the State Administrative Council(SAC) which met recently under the chairmanshipof Governor ,Satya Pal Malik. It is a welcomemove and any decision to ensure better imple-mentation of any scheme even by making adeparture from the ‘outdated’ procedural realmsshould be encouraged as what matters is deliveryon the ground.It is no denying the fact that even a cursoryappraisal of the implementation of this scheme ofnutrition with learning in Jammu and Kashmir,would attribute its unsatisfactory levels to the poormanagement and lack of manpower. A separatemid-day meal directorate which the core schemecarries with it as an important prerequisite foreffective implementation, could not be provideddespite objections raised from the concernedagencies. Besides, a detailed management, mon-itoring and evaluation plans in respect of this cen-tral programme including its proper audit were allseen in a messy and confused form . Could allthese shortcomings be overcome now by ‘handingover’ the scheme to the PRIs , let us draw opti-mistic lines and hope the desired results could beachieved. When a Community Level Committeecomprising 10 members and headed by aSarpanch or any ‘authority’ nominated by theSarpanch could oversee, monitor and get actual-ly involved in preparation and distribution of themeal , it could be presumed that better resultswould be seen. The only things they had to takecare of, were the elements of hygiene kept in con-sideration while cooking and the stuff distributedbeing of the prescribed levels of nutrition.The central issue to the scheme like any otherscheme is, arranging , providing and managingfunds and if the funds too could be managed bythe PRIs , the conducting of a joint account bythe Headmaster of a school jointly with theSarpanch/Administrator or a nominee of theSarpanch, better utilization of funds could beexpected. Proper procedures for accounting andmaintaining proper books and records supportedby vouchers , receipts etc should invariably be fol-lowed by audits regularly as also assessing peri-odically as to how much improvement in coveragelevels could result by putting in place a bettermechanism for implementation of the mid-dayscheme.