Mid-day (Midday) Meals in India – a Challenging Task !

With all the recent tragedies and controversies associated with the Mid-day (Midday) Meal Scheme in Bihar, Odisha, UP, MP, Chattishgarh and other states, many like me must be wondering whether there is a need to re-look at the effectiveness of the scheme and/or whether this program should be stopped altogether. Some say that these are just isolated incidents that happen at times (random theory) and some like Chief Minister (Bihar) Nitish Kumar say that there is a conspiracy behind these incidents !

The ‘mid-day meal in schools’ programme in India that started in 1960 had the main objectives of protecting children against hunger and increasing school-enrolment and/or attendance. Other than these main objectives, mid-day meal programme had also aimed to achieve equality or social harmony among children of various classes and castes, and to provide employment to the unprivileged women. Though the key objectives are still valid in the changed scenario of today’s world, the promotion of social harmony or equality is still a myth !

It is true that there are many points to be discussed, many issues to be solved and many things to be proved or disproved by the Government, by the Officials, by the Media and by the so-called social Intellectuals and human-rights Activists…

Instead of going to the mode of another commentary, let me narrate my own experiences on the mid-day meal scheme.

I studied in a village school in the early eighties. Those days, government schools were the only mode of schooling in many parts of India (a few private English-medium schools, mostly managed by Christian Missionaries were there in the cities). We had three Teachers only to teach five classes/standards, each class/standard having 50-60 students. Teaching curriculum was definitely exhaustive those days. Other than teaching, duties such as preparing voter-lists, census, checking village sanitation, etc., were day-to-day activities of our Teachers.

Like many other schools, we too had mid-day meal programme, though not regularly. There was only one item – wheat kheer (porridge). We used to bring our own utensils from home and assist our Teachers in cooking the meals, cleaning the utensils and bringing the stocks from the local Block or Panchayat office; never received the full-quota – as these offices reserved their shares !

No external help or cook was appointed for this programme.

Every student was asked to bring some firewood from his/her home for the cooking (now I realize, that in fact, it was a punishable offence). I remember, some of my class-mates used to steal firewood from their neighbour’s backyards to avoid harassment in the school.

Since there was no tube-well in the school premises, we used to walk at least 2 km (to and fro) to bring drinking and cooking water; a very tough job during the hot summer and the rainy season.

I still remember… There were some broken-wheat supplied by the government for the programme; at least half of the stock used to go to the Teachers’ homes directly for their own use – like making sweets or feeding their cows ! Oil and Salt were also supplied; more than half of the oil was used at the feasts and for preparing snacks during the School Sub-Inspector’s visit or Village Committee’s visit to the school.

And the quality of the wheat was sometimes horrible; worms were almost certain and it was an every day affair. To handle the mid-day meals in schools, Village Workers and CDPOs (Child Development Project Officers) were appointed by the government. It is true that these officials used to visit school for inspections followed by a grand feast and a holiday for all of us. But these officials also had their shares in the mid-day meal programme !! We or our parents did not know whom to complain ?!? It was therefore hardly discussed even in casual get-together of our parents or guardians.

Speaking about social harmony and equality – there were high differentiations among the students based on castes (at least religion was not involved in our school) even while preparing food, bringing water and eating those meals. This ill trend reportedly continues in some schools even today !!!!

The mid-day meal program has continued for years… worsening day- by-day. For some, it is a business; for some, it is a mode of earning; and for some, it is just a single meal in the whole day !!

Taxpayers’ money is being regularly spent on such a programme, whose effectiveness is much debatable and it is still not made clear who is accountable for these tragedies; no proper monitoring system is yet in place ! There is definitely a huge lack of administration and accountability in this. Officials or Social-Workers, even when enabled with sufficient power, seem to fall short in carrying out or meting their responsibilities, and taking initiatives to prevent mid-day meal tragedies. There is an indifferent attitude in most of the cases – no one is really bothered. And the blame-game goes on as usual…

But is the government only to be blamed ? We too are responsible in many roles as – parents, teachers, village committee members, Sarpanchs, ward-members, officials, social observers, social activists, etc. We have been sleeping on the mega loopholes for years, even though we knew it was meant for our innocent little buds !!

Aamjunta – what do you think? It is time for you to act too…

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31 Responses

  1. First of all a Warm Welcome to you My Friend.. 🙂
    As for the mid-day meal programme..Whenever such schemes came into place everyone from the Ministers to the Teacher Level never hesitated to make money out of it..and we common people even after knowing these just remain silent just because of the fear of getting lost in the Crowd and but I guess the time has come to stand up and fight against these loopholes..

  2. Well written, sir.

    My experience with mid-day meals schemes are not anyway closer to yours, but I can give another dimension.

    Today, I’m sure the aspect of expect kids to pitch in for the preparation will be limited, at least with respect to bringing raw materials. However, the problem is that, like any ‘subsidy’ that percolates from top to bottom, this scheme also has lots of troubles. I know a mid-day meal employee, who would take away a good portion of the raw materials like rice/dal to her own house. And I’m sure this is not an isolated incident as you have mentioned about the higher level corruption.

    The other aspect of discrimination aspect is spot on. I really doubt if any initiative which claimed to bring parity in caste discrimination ever worked. Except may be the surname removal in Tamilnadu, which amounted to removing an explicit knowledge to everyone about the other person’s caste. (but then, there are people who won’t mind asking your caste)

  3. Great going Aamjunta. Life in India is quite different from any other part of the world. Midday meal as you mentioned is becoming a burden for our society. The other problem with midday meal is the class – poor vs. rich division. This is pathetic.

  4. Your experience with mid-day meal is like the experience with truth. Nostalgic feeling.

  5. This post has 3 parts and all the three parts are unique. Your experience with the mid day meal programme of 1980s is really appealing. As you said every one is responsible for the debacle of it. In my opinion, this program can be made effective (including the primary education), if we close all private schools and allow only government schools with quality teacher and education. Then the parents will definitely become serious and make this effective.

  6. The latest incident at the Chhapra school in Bihar where so far 23 children have died is reported to be due to poisonous (monocrotophos) midday meal consumption… Some activists and newspapers have tried to highlight that this ‘monocrotophos’ have not been duly banned in India. But I do not see any logic here – why, aren’t there other ways of contamination or food-poisoning ?? …As such, in India now many of us earn high but still we do not see or maintain minimum hygiene in many homes here – forget about safety standards in midday meals scheme ! No one cares !!!

  7. Hmmm, looks interesting with reality in-built. There is only one solution to this big problem – provide uniform primary education and, either government should be involved in it or a new body should be formed for this. You can have private-government partnership in it, but the control should not be given directly to corrupt officials and businessmen. And more than that, improve the legal system – provide quick justice. I am sure many problems like this will just vanish in a day.

  8. Very well explained to the point. The problem is with our thinking, the value of human life is low in our country for the over population and everyone is out to make a quick buck at the cost of others. The feasting politicians should be shown the door for sucking the funds and not doing what is needed

  9. Yes, true….all these government schemes are being used in very bad and in undisciplined way…. I’ve seen many government schemes like mid day meal and many others are only to put bucks in the pocket of middle persons….days before when I was listening about this news on TV, I was thinking….I will become DM of the city and have a look on such services and their smoothness.

  10. Another thing – years back, Teachers were allocated multiple other roles too probably due to lack of literate mass. However, as society advanced (literacy increased relatively), gradual changes must have been implemented by the Administration, including right delegation of responsibility and accountability. As of now, I think NGOs seem to be a better option in handling the Midday Meal scheme –

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/teachers-should-teach-not-supervise-cooking-of-mid-day-meals-allahabad-hc/409343-3-242.html

  11. Is ‘Mid day meal’ for the attendance of kids in the school all necessary?

  12. An introspective post on Mid-Day deals. Yes, they are deals for many who snatch away the meal from the needy. There are many options for every problem. NGOs or Businessmen should be invited to run restaurants throughout India to provide Mid-day meals just like KFC has branches over the globe. The meals will be prepared in a hygienic way and all details can be audited too.

  13. Great Blog ! Government is no different from people involved. I am not sure why we have learned to promote corrupt people. One counter-intuitive reason I am able to think of is that we ourselves want to be able to be in such an environment.

  14. This time frogs in midday meal. What else?

    http://ibnlive.in.com/news/mid-day-meal-horror-continues-with-frogs-being-found-in-moradabad-chitrakoot-schools/409415-3-242.html

    Who will give governance and solution to these problems? Moditwa or Rahul-baba?

  15. Had to share this on g+. To have “people” take what belongs to kids – what a sad state of affairs.

  16. Had to share this on g+. To have “people” take what belongs to kids – what a sad state of affairs.

  17. On the whole we are becoming irresponsible and selfish… Nothing buy money matters.

  18. Why can’t we stop the mid day meal? Anyway, full meals are available at Re 1/- in J&K, at Rs 5/- in Delhi and Rs 12/- at Mumbai (as mentioned by Congress leaders and planning commission on Rs 28/- for BPL), so better give Rs 5/- or Rs 12/- such that people can eat.

    http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/one-can-eat-for-re-1-says-farooq-abdullah/article4956085.ece

  19. “Nice article .”

  20. Read this post, and I though people should know how cheap meals are available in India. Sharing a recent NDTV post.

    http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/looking-for-a-meal-rs-5-in-delhi-this-is-what-we-found-397248?pfrom=home-otherstories

  21. Its very unfortunate how a great scheme that could have benefited kids turned into their death wish. Very rightly pointed out by the author of this post the onus of making such schemes a success lies collectively on the public. If we have the wisdom to unite and ask for accountability on part of the system things would be different. We would get good roads, great medical facilities at the govt hospitals to name a few things and innocent kids will not die either of hunger or due to negligence and malpractice. After all the people in the system are mere humans just like us.

  22. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  23. Your experience is terrible, so say the least. When I went to India last year, my cousin told me (her kids go to village school in Punjab) that the quality of food is really good in mid-day meal. Now, they have parents involved in maintaining the school kitchen. Her husband was overseeing it for 6 months and then they will elect someone else. I think what I witnessed one one of the very rare cases.

  24. Free food will not solve the issue but solving the problem of hunger and employment to all will perpetually solve the issue of hungry children and better lively hood. http://brainsickthoughts.wordpress.com/2013/07/29/mid-day-meal-a-meal-of-corruption-inefficiency-and-disaster/

  25. The recent incidents were so heart breaking and we stumble along … till the next tragedy.

  26. Dear Sir,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences which added a lot of value to the write.

    It does not matter how much ever money government pours in in these schemes, and how many people employed, as long as it is done as charity, it will not work.

    There needs be a strong vision on what the project will accomplish. Without the main objective of quality education and delivering educated joyful kids to build a strong next generation India, support systems will just fall apart.

    And to fructify that vision, we need passionate volunteers, not paid staff. Because, if they get an additional INR 1000 somewhere else, they will move on.

    I am saying this from my own seeing while I worked on some NGO projects.

    Best Regards,
    Venkat.

  27. Thank you for this article. That’s all I can say. You most definitely have made this blog into something special. You clearly know what you are doing, you’ve covered so many bases.Thanks!

  28. As citizens we need to wake up but it has to be all of us waking up and taking a stand otherwise there is no way that we will be able to cut the roots of corruption that have grown too deep into our system.

  29. Nice to see your experience in this post. Coming to Mid-Day Meal – it is another disaster in India’s policy implementation. We all are equally responsible too.

  30. Unfortunately yes, no one (even in the high levels of Administration) is really bothered !!

    “Raju has not found time to hold a meeting of the empowered committee — comprising secretaries of various social sector ministries — set up in August after the Mid-Day Meal tragedy in Bihar, which claimed the lives of 20 children after eating contaminated food.”

    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/HRD-minister-Pallam-Raju-skips-work-to-protest-against-Telangana-but-goes-on-junket/articleshow/26003595.cms

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