More than a decade after Karnataka introduced a mid-day meal scheme for schoolchildren, the quality and nutritional value of the food remains a concern.
Doctors and nutritionists believe the bisi oota (hot meal) is “substandard” and grossly inadequate to meet the needs of growing children.
The scheme covers more than 61 lakh children in government and aided schools.
Schoolchildren eat rice, sambar, and vegetables from Monday to Thursday, bisibele bath on Friday and upma and sweet pongal on Saturday.
But the quantity is meagre and the quality questionable, according to Akhila Vasan of Jana Arogya Andolana (Karnataka), an NGO.
“The dal and ingredients used are substandard. The sambar is not prepared properly and it has hardly any vegetables,” she said.
Akshaya Patra Foundation, which prepares and supplies mid-day meals to most government schools in Bangalore, has encountered quality problems with the rice procured from Food Corporation of India godowns.
“According to the guidelines of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, each child should get 150 grams of rice. But given the poor quality, they end up eating only about 90 grams. FCI rice is not always good,” said C V Thirumala Rao, consultant, Akshaya Patra Foundation, and a retired joint director of the state education department. A recent research paper brought out by Azim Premji University (APU) recommends a relook at the meal quality.
“Revamp the quality of mid-day meals by relooking at the nutrient intake from the perspective of Recommended Dietary Allowance (as given by the Indian Council of Medical Research) as well as region-wise food availability,” the paper states.
Nutrition and Health
Under the mid-day meal scheme, schoolchildren between six and 10 years receive 490 calories and those between 11 and 15 get 720 calories, said Dr Jagadish Chinnappa, consultant paediatrician, Manipal Hospitals. “The quantity is enough only if they eat breakfast, snacks and dinner in addition.” That doesn’t happen. “Unfortunately, some parents think that since the kids eat at school, they don’t need more food at home. The mid-day meal cannot completely replace food given to kids at home,” said Dr T N Sathyanarayana, associate professor, Public Health Foundation of India and former surveillance officer with the World Health Organisation. He said kids need more protein and a more balanced diet. “Children, especially adolescent girls, are the most vulnerable. Instead of aiming at only 490 calories, the government should supplement the meal with fruits.
The existing meal is far from beneficial,” he told Express. Unequal distribution of food is another problem. “Several studies have shown that corrupt practices are a reality in schools,” the paper states. Akhila Vasan prefers giving children eggs to meet their protein requirement. Interestingly, the government is sitting on a proposal by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to provide eggs or bananas to schoolchildren. Researchers note that the meal scheme focuses on nutritional support to children so that they do not drop out.
“A link is established between education and nutrition without extending it to health. Ensuring good health of the child is not there as one of the mid-day meal scheme’s objectives,” the paper states.
Milk Scheme Question
The government launched the Ksheera Bhagya scheme in August 2013. Six months later, the DPI has asked the KMF to evaluate its benefits for schoolchildren. The Ksheera Bhagya scheme, where 64 lakh children get 150 ml of full cream (fat) milk thrice a week, is meant to act as a nutritional supplement to the mid-day meal scheme. “We consider the milk scheme a supplement to the meal scheme, but we don’t know the effects the milk scheme has had on children’s health,” said Jayakumar S, Joint Director, Mid-day Meal Scheme.
■ In 2012-13, a total of 55,113 schools were beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme. Of these, 48,773 were government schools and 6,340 aided schools.
■ The per child expenditure by the central and state governments together is `3.34 for classes 1 to 5, `5 for classes 6 and 8. `6.62 is spent per child for class 9 and 10. This is borne fully by the state.
■ In the 2013-14 budget, the state government outlay was `1,518.28 crore for the mid-day meal scheme. Of this, 45.4 per cent came from the Centre and the rest from the state government.