Hello, dear readers! Today, we embark on an exciting journey to explore India’s largest school meal program, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, which has been nourishing the minds and bodies of millions of children across the nation.
This incredible initiative provides free lunches to over 120 million children in more than 1.27 million schools and Education Guarantee Scheme centres, making it the world’s largest program of its kind.
- MDMS was recently renamed to PM-POSHAN (Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman) Scheme in September 2021.
- Launched as the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) on 15th August 1995, and later renamed as the National Programme of Mid-Day Meal in Schools in October 2007.
- World’s largest school meal program, catering to over 120 million children in more than 1.27 million schools and Education Guarantee Scheme centres.
- The historical journey that began in 1930 under the French Administration in the Union Territory of Puducherry, and was later pioneered in Tamil Nadu by former Chief Minister K. Kamaraj in the early 1960s.
- The Supreme Court of India directed all state governments to implement the scheme by 2002, making it a nationwide initiative.
- Under the National Food Security Act, 2013, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme receives legal backing, similar to the National School Lunch Act in the US.
- As part of India’s commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 24, paragraph 2c ensures “adequate nutritious food” for children.
- The Vice President of India has proposed the inclusion of milk in mid-day meals, highlighting the importance of the scheme for the IAS Exam.
- PM POSHAN extends hot cooked meals to students studying in pre-primary levels or Bal Vatikas of government and government-aided primary schools, in addition to those already covered under the mid-day scheme.
Understanding Mid-Day Meals
Mid-Day Meals are nutritious meals served to children attending government schools, government-aided schools, local body schools, special training centres (STC), madrasas, and maktabs under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) initiative.
Aims and Objectives of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) aims to achieve the following objectives:
- Boost enrolment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds in schools
- Improve attendance rates
- Retain students in classes 1-8
- Offer nutritional assistance to children in drought-affected regions
Key Features and Evolution of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
- The world’s largest school meal program, targeting the universalization of primary education
- Overseen by the Ministry of Education
- A centrally-sponsored scheme with shared costs between the central and state governments (Centre’s share: 60%)
Milestones in the Development of MDMS
- Tamil Nadu’s pioneering role: Tamil Nadu was the first state to implement the mid-day meal scheme.
- 2001 – Cooked meals introduced: MDMS transformed into a cooked meal program, providing prepared meals for a minimum of 200 days per year with 300 calories and 8 to 12 grams of protein per meal.
- 2002 – Expansion to EGS and AIE centres: The scheme extended to include children in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative & Innovative Education (AIE) centres.
- 2004 – Revision with new provisions: Central assistance for cooking costs, transport subsidies, and provisions for summer vacation meals in drought-affected regions were added.
- 2006 – Enhanced nutritional norms: Cooking costs increased, and nutritional norms were revised to 450 calories and 12 grams of protein per meal.
- 2007 – Inclusion of Educationally Backward Blocks: The scheme expanded to cover children in classes 6-8 in 3,479 Educationally Backwards Blocks (EBBs).
- 2008 – SSA-supported madrasas and maktabs added: Madrasas and maktabs under the SSA initiative were included in the scheme.
In addition to the calorie and protein intake, children are also entitled to receive micronutrients (tablets and deworming medicines) through the school health program of the National Rural Health Mission.
The Impact of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been successful in achieving various goals, such as:
- Alleviating classroom hunger
- Increasing school enrollment
- Boosting school attendance
- Improving socialization among different castes
- Addressing malnutrition in children
- Empowering women through employment opportunities in meal preparation and distribution
Through these objectives and impacts, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has played a significant role in promoting education and health among children across India.
Mid-Day Meal Rules, 2015
The Mid-Day Meal Rules 2015 were notified on September 30, 2015, under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013. These rules provide guidelines and standards for the implementation of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme across the country.
Key Provisions of the MDM Rules, 2015
- Fund utilization flexibility: Schools can use other funds for midday meals if the MDM funds get exhausted.
- Food allowances in special cases: When schools or other bodies cannot provide cooked meals, they must provide food allowances to beneficiaries.
- Monthly meal testing: Accredited labs conduct random monthly testing of meals to ensure quality.
- Responsibility in case of meal shortages: If children in any school don’t receive meals for 3 consecutive school days or 5 days in a month, the concerned state government must hold a person or agency accountable.
Salient Features of MDM Rules, 2015
|Class||Age Group||Energy Intake||Protein Intake|
|Primary||6-10 yrs||450 calories||12 grams|
|Upper Primary||11-14 yrs||700 calories||20 grams|
|Food Items||Primary||Upper Primary|
|Oil and Fats||5g||7.5g|
- Quality of ingredients: Schools must procure AGMARK quality items for meal preparation.
- Meal Location: Meals are to be served on the school premises only.
- Hygienic cooking infrastructure: Schools should have clean cooking facilities to prepare midday meals in a hygienic manner.
- Role of School Management Committee (SMC): SMCs, mandated under the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, play a vital role in monitoring the MDMS.
- Headmaster’s fund utilization authority: Headmasters or headmistresses can use school funds for midday meals if MDM funds are exhausted, but they must reimburse the midday meal fund when credited.
- Quality assurance: The Food and Drugs Administration Department of the state may collect samples to ensure the nutritive value and quality of the meals.
- Food allowance provision: Food allowances must be provided to children when cooked meals cannot be offered due to unforeseen circumstances, including the quantity of food grains as per the child’s entitlement and the prevailing cooking cost in the state.
The Mid-Day Meal Rules, 2015, ensure that the scheme provides nutritious meals to children across India in a hygienic and consistent manner, promoting education and health for young students.
Models of Mid-Day Meal Delivery (Implementation of MDM)
The Mid-Day Meal Scheme in India is implemented through three primary models: the Decentralized Model, the Centralized Model, and International Assistance. Each model has its own advantages and challenges.
Decentralized Model of Mid-Day Meal Scheme
The decentralized model is the most common practice in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. In this model, meals are cooked on-site by local cooks and helpers or self-help groups.
Advantages of the Decentralized Model
- Serving local cuisine: The model allows for serving traditional local dishes that cater to the tastes of the children.
- Employment opportunities: Over 2.5 million cooks and helpers (cooks-cum-helpers) are employed under this scheme, receiving a small honorarium (approximately US$14 per month).
- Minimizing waste: Cooking on-site reduces food waste and allows for better meal planning.
- Better monitoring: Parents and teachers can easily monitor meal preparation and quality.
Challenges in the Decentralized Model
- Lack of adequate infrastructure: The absence of proper kitchen sheds and utensils can lead to accidents and hygiene issues. There have been instances of tragic accidents, such as the 2004 fire that killed 87 children and the 2011 incident where a child died from burn injuries after falling into a cooking vessel.
Centralized Model of Mid-Day Meal Scheme
In the centralized model, an external organization cooks and delivers meals to schools, mostly through public-private partnerships. This model is more common in urban areas where the density of schools is high, making food transportation financially viable.
Advantages of the Centralized Model
- Improved hygiene: Large-scale cooking in centralized kitchens is usually automated, ensuring better hygiene standards.
- Participation of NGOs: Various non-governmental organizations, such as the Nalabothu Foundation, Akshaya Patra Foundation, Ekta Shakti Foundation, Naandi Foundation, and Jay Gee Humanitarian Society, contribute to providing midday meals.
Challenges in the Centralized Model
- Quality of food: A 2007 study of centralized kitchens in Delhi found that the quality of food needed improvement. Teachers often felt helpless when the delivered food was of inadequate quality, not knowing whom to complain to.
- Nutritional standards: The Ministry of Human Resource Development reported that 95% of tested meal samples prepared by NGOs in Delhi did not meet nutritional standards in 2010–12, leading to withheld payments for deficient meals.
International Assistance in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
Several international voluntary and charity organizations have provided valuable assistance to the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, including:
- Church World Service: Supplied milk powder
- CARE: Provided corn soya meal, Bulgar wheat, and vegetable oils
- UNICEF: Offered high-protein foods and educational support
The ‘Food for Learning’ Program
In 1982, the ‘Food for Learning’ program was launched with assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), initially aimed at scheduled caste and scheduled tribe girls.
Expansion of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
In 1983, the federal Department of Education collaborated with the World Food Programme to expand the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Their ambitious goal included:
- Providing nutritious meals to 13.6 million scheduled caste girls and 10.09 million scheduled tribe girls in classes one to five
- Reaching 15 states and three union territories
- Valuing the food at $163.27 million per year, with state governments covering labour, facilities, and transportation costs
Advantages of the International Assistance
- Many states recognized the potential of the program to improve the health and education of their young citizens
- International assistance played a crucial role in the success of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme
Challenges of the International Assistance
- Mixed reactions among states and union territories
- Some states were concerned about their ability to afford the program if the FAO were to withdraw its support in the future
The collaborative effort between international organizations and the Indian government showcases the importance of working together to address complex issues like child nutrition and education.
By pooling resources and expertise, these organizations have made a significant impact on the lives of millions of children in India. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme not only addresses immediate nutritional needs but also encourages school attendance, which is essential for the long-term educational and economic development of the country.
Looking ahead, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme has the potential to continue growing and evolving to better serve the needs of India’s children. To ensure its ongoing success, it will be essential to:
- Maintain strong partnerships between international organizations, the Indian government, and local communities
- Regularly assess and address the program’s challenges, such as funding and logistical concerns
- Adapt the program to changing nutritional and educational needs, ensuring that it remains relevant and effective
Through continued collaboration and commitment, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme can serve as a shining example of how international assistance and local efforts can combine to create lasting, positive change for children in need.
Criticism of the Midday Meal Scheme: A Deeper Look
While the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) has made a significant impact on the lives of millions of Indian children, it has not been without its fair share of criticism. In this article, we’ll discuss the key issues and challenges that have emerged as points of discussion around this ambitious initiative.
Loopholes and Challenges
Despite the existence of integrated child development schemes, India continues to grapple with severe problems, such as:
- Child stunting
- Child mortality
- Child wasting
This is evident in India’s rank of 94 in the Global Hunger Index 2020. Some of the major concerns surrounding the MDMS include:
- Caste-based Discrimination: The 2008 Report by the National Campaign on Dalit Rights highlights that midday meals are often served in upper-caste localities. During times of caste tensions, Dalit children may be denied the meal as a means of asserting the dominance of upper-caste communities.
- Chronic Undernourishment: According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, 39% of Indian children remain chronically undernourished.
- Quality of Food: The food quality provided under the MDMS has been a point of debate, with various media reports highlighting instances where children’s health has deteriorated due to the food served.
- Linking Aadhar to MDMS: The decision to link Aadhar cards to the Midday Meal Scheme has been met with criticism as well. Many children do not have Aadhar cards, which can limit their access to much-needed meals.
Addressing the Challenges
To ensure the success of the Midday Meal Scheme and the well-being of Indian children, it is crucial to address these concerns:
- Eradicating Caste-based Discrimination: Implementing strict monitoring and grievance redressal mechanisms can help ensure that no child is denied a meal based on their caste. It is vital to promote inclusivity and break down barriers that perpetuate discrimination.
- Improving Nutritional Quality: Constantly reviewing and upgrading the nutritional content of the meals served can help combat undernourishment. Collaborating with nutritionists, dieticians, and food safety experts can contribute to developing well-rounded meal plans.
- Enhancing Food Quality and Safety: Rigorous quality control measures and regular inspections must be in place to ensure that the food provided under the MDMS is safe, hygienic, and of high quality. Strict penalties should be imposed on those found to be compromising the health and safety of the children.
While the Midday Meal Scheme has played a crucial role in promoting education, nutrition, and social equity, addressing the challenges and criticisms is vital to ensure that every child in India has the opportunity to thrive and succeed.
By working together as a society and focusing on transparency, accountability, and inclusivity, we can overcome these obstacles and create a brighter future for our children.
Tithi Bhojan, a noble initiative under the Midday Meal Programme, began in the vibrant state of Gujarat. The idea was simple yet powerful: encourage local community members to celebrate social events such as the birth of a child or housewarming by contributing to midday meals served in nearby schools.
How Tithi Bhojan is Served
The beauty of Tithi Bhojan lies in its diversity and inclusiveness. Voluntarily served by the community or family, the offerings come in various forms:
- Sweets and savoury snacks, complementing the regular Midday Meal
- Full meals, ensuring a hearty and nutritious experience
- Supplementary nutritive items, such as sprouted beans, for added nourishment
- Contributions in kind, including cookware, utensils, dinner sets, and drinking glasses
Tithi Bhojan: Spreading its Wings
The success and impact of Tithi Bhojan have been undeniable, leading to its adoption by ten other states, each embracing the concept with its own local flavour:
- Assam: “Sampriti Bhojan”
- Himachal Pradesh: “Dham”
- Maharashtra: “Sneh Bhojan”
- Karnataka: “Shalegagi Naavu Neevu”
- Puducherry: “Anna Dhanam”
- Punjab: “Priti Bhoj”
- Rajasthan: “Utsav Bhoj”
- Uttarakhand, Haryana, and Chandigarh: Retaining the original name, “Tithi Bhojan”
The Impact of Tithi Bhojan
The ripple effect of Tithi Bhojan has been far-reaching, touching the lives of millions of schoolchildren and their families:
- Boosting Community Participation: By encouraging locals to contribute to midday meals, Tithi Bhojan has effectively promoted a sense of ownership and responsibility towards the well-being of children in the community.
- Enriching Midday Meals: The diverse offerings under Tithi Bhojan have made midday meals more appetizing and nutritious, ensuring that children receive a well-rounded diet.
- Strengthening Social Bonds: The act of serving and sharing meals during special occasions fosters social harmony, bridging the gaps between different communities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The Government of India has recently launched a revamped scheme called PM POSHAN, aimed at enhancing the nutritional well-being of schoolchildren across the country. With a budget of Rs 1,30,794.90 crore, the scheme will span over five years (2021-22 to 2025-26) and is expected to benefit 11.80 crore children studying in 11.20 lakh schools.
Key Features of PM POSHAN
While the Mid Day Meal Scheme has been a significant initiative in the past, PM POSHAN aims to further improve the nutrition and health status of schoolchildren by introducing several new elements:
- Nutritional Monitoring: PM POSHAN will focus on monitoring the nutritional levels of schoolchildren, going beyond merely providing meals.
- Nutritional Experts in Schools: A nutritional expert will be appointed in each school to ensure that students’ BMI, weight levels, and haemoglobin levels are monitored regularly.
- Special Provisions for High-Anaemia Districts: In districts with a high prevalence of anaemia, special provisions for nutritional items will be made to combat this issue effectively.
- Nutrition Gardens on School Campuses: The government is considering developing nutrition gardens on school campuses, where students can actively participate in cultivating fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious plants.
- Cooking Competitions to Promote Local Cuisine: PM POSHAN may also include cooking competitions held under the scheme to promote ethnic cuisine and innovative menus based on local ingredients. These competitions aim to encourage healthy eating habits and an appreciation for diverse culinary traditions.
Why does PM POSHAN Matter?
PM POSHAN is a significant step forward in India’s quest to improve the health and nutrition of its children. By focusing on monitoring and proactive interventions, the scheme aims to create a more comprehensive approach to tackling malnutrition and fostering healthy eating habits. Moreover, by involving students in activities like nutrition gardens and cooking competitions, the initiative seeks to instil a sense of ownership and enthusiasm for nutritious food among the younger generation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q 1. When and who introduced the Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Introduced: 1995
- By: Government of India
- Inspired by: Tamil Nadu’s school meal programs in the 1960s
Q 2. What are the different models of Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Decentralized model – Preparing meals on the site by local cooks, Self-help groups etc.
- Centralized model – In the place of local on-site cooks, under this model, an external organization cooks food and delivers it to the schools.
- International assistance – Various international charity organizations aid government schools.
Q 3. How does the Mid Day Meal Scheme impact children’s education?
- Increases enrollment rates
- Improves attendance
- Reduces dropout rates
- Enhances concentration and academic performance
Q 4. What are the nutritional guidelines for the meals provided under the scheme?
- Adequate calories and proteins
- Balanced diet with essential nutrients
- Age-appropriate serving sizes
- Inclusion of fruits, vegetables, and local ingredients
Q 5. How is the Mid Day Meal Scheme funded and implemented?
- Jointly funded by the Central and State governments
- Implemented through State governments and Union Territories
- Supported by NGOs and private partners in some regions
Q 6. Can individuals or organizations contribute to the Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Partnership with NGOs or government agencies
- Participating in Tithi Bhojan or similar initiatives
Q 7. What are the main challenges faced by the Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Caste-based discrimination
- Chronic undernourishment
- Quality and safety of food
- Linking Aadhar cards to the scheme
Q 8. How does the government monitor the quality and safety of the meals served?
- Regular inspections and audits
- Quality control measures and guidelines
- Grievance redressal mechanisms
- Collaboration with NGOs and private partners
Q 9. What are some successful case studies or examples of the Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Akshaya Patra Foundation: Centralized kitchen model, serving millions of children across India
- Tithi Bhojan: Community-driven initiative, fostering unity and participation in Gujarat and other states
Q 10. What future improvements or initiatives are being considered for the Mid Day Meal Scheme?
- Strengthening monitoring and grievance redressal systems
- Improving nutritional content and meal diversity
- Enhancing community participation and ownership
- Reevaluating Aadhar linkage and exploring alternative enrollment processes