NEW DELHI: The Union government has decided to carry out a detailed audit and review of the mid-day meal scheme, under which foodgrains and cooking cost for children are provided to states as part of the food security allowance, as schools have been shut since March, 2020. Over the last year and a half, the Centre has been giving about Rs 100 each to children studying in Class I to VIII in government schools, the beneficiaries of the scheme. “A major professional services network firm is being hired to see how the scheme is working on the ground as the schools are shut,” a senior education ministry official told this newspaper.
Through the MDM, food is provided to nearly 12 crore children for at least 200 days a year in over 11.4 lakh government schools across the country. “As the schools for primary and upper primary level schools are shut even though schools from 9-12 classes have begun in most states, we want to ensure that the funds are reaching the right beneficiaries,” the official said, adding that there would be surprise inspections carried out in various states.
Last year, the ministry had said it would give about Rs 1,200 crore per year to students through direct benefit transfer as a one-time payment, adding that the money comes from the cooking cost component of the scheme, it said.
“This decision will help safeguard the nutritional levels of children and aid in protecting their immunity during the challenging pandemic times,” the government had said. “The central government will provide additional funds of about Rs 1,200 crore to state governments and UT administrations for this purpose.”
Total Central allocation for the scheme this year is Rs 11,500 crore. The largest component is cooking costs, which cover the prices of ingredients such as pulses, vegetables, cooking oil, salt, and condiments.
Last January too, the Centre had also conducted a random audit of the scheme in the wake of repeated episodes of irregularities and corruption in the scheme, reported mainly from Uttar Pradesh in 2019.
Food rights activists, meanwhile, have been saying that Rs 100 cash transfer per child as food security allowance, which comes to less than Rs 4 per child per day, may not be sufficient.
In terms of the food and nutrition security situation, India had a dismal rank of 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index for 2020. The latest National Family Health Survey 5 also confirmed high malnutrition among children. According to the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey 2016-18, 22 % children of school-going age are stunted and 35 per cent are underweight, the activists pointed out.