NEW DELHI: An ambitious plan to introduce breakfast as an extension of the mid-day meal for students in Classes I-VIII in government schools from the next academic session is set to be delayed by several months due to a fund crunch.
The Union Ministry of Education had estimated that it will cost about Rs 4,000 crore to the Centre, apart from states’ share, to introduce breakfast for nearly 12 crore primary and upper primary students in 2021-22.
The lack of funds, however, has pushed the initiative on the backburner, sources told this newspaper.
“We were hoping to begin the project from April. However, this is set to be delayed by several months now,” said a government official. The setback for the scheme expansion comes in the backdrop of the education budget getting slashed by nearly 6 per cent.
For the school education and literacy department of the education ministry, the proposed budget this year is Rs 54, 873 crore, 8 per cent lesser than the budget estimate of Rs 59,845 proposed in the last fiscal.
Officials pointed out that in 2020-21, the government incurred Rs 1,900 crore more on the MDM scheme than the proposed allocation, owing to the revised policy during the Covid-19 lockdown under which benefit was provided to all enrolled students either in form of cash or ration.
“The cost incurred towards MDM was Rs 12,900 crore by the Centre in 2020-21 as against Rs 11,000 crore originally allocated. However, it might be many months before the Centre is comfortable to expand the programme beyond the current format,” said another official. As per the arrangement, while foodgrain is provided by the Centre, the cost of preparing food and the rest of the expenditure in providing the meal is shared between the Centre and states.
The new education policy (NEP) has proposed that MDM offered to school children be supplemented with breakfast. The policy has noted that morning hours after a nutritious breakfast can be particularly productive for the study of cognitively more demanding subjects and hence, recommended expansion of the scheme. In locations where hot meals are not possible, a simple but nutritious meal — groundnuts or chana mixed with jaggery and local fruits may be provided, says the NEP.