Midday meals scheme: Are corruption claims exaggerated? -Monika Yadav
-Ideas for India
Soon after Aadhaar was made compulsory for availing midday meals in schools, the government claimed that the move had helped expose several instances of schools siphoning off funds under the scheme by reporting inflated student enrolment. Comparing official data with that from the Indian Human Development Survey, this column shows that corruption in the scheme is less than what is being alleged - and not of the nature that Aadhaar can check.
In Februrary 2017, Government of India issued a notification that effectively makes the unique identification (UID) number, or Aadhaar1, compulsory for children to avail midday meals (MDM) in schools. The move rests on the belief that Aadhaar can help check corruption in the MDM scheme. Soon after the notification was issued, media reports surfaced whereby the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) claimed that Aadhaar helped expose about 440,000 ‘ghost’ students in Jharkhand, Manipur, and Andhra Pradesh. The government maintains that striking off these fictitious beneficiaries will help arrest the siphoning of funds by reporting inflated attendance figures. In this column, I seek to investigate the claims made by the government about corruption in the scheme. Matching official MHRD data with data from another independent source (details below) suggests that corruption in the MDM scheme is not as much as the government thinks it might be.
How many school kids get midday meals?
In the recent media reports, it is alleged that many government schools have been showing non-existent students on their rolls to claim additional funds under the MDM scheme. It is important to note here that meals are served on the basis of daily student attendance rather than enrolment. But then one may claim that schools are inflating attendance numbers as well to siphon off funds.
A simple way to check this is to compare (A) the number of children actually being served MDM on ground, with (B) officially recorded numbers by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). For (A), I use India Human Development Survey (IHDS) 2011-12 which is a nationally representative independent household survey of villages and urban neighbourhoods. IHDS gives us estimates of the number of children in government, government-aided and EGS (Education Guarantee Scheme) schools at the primary and upper primary levels, who report whether they are fed at school.
Now, for (B), according to MHRD data for the period of 2011-12, 105 million children availed MDM in all government schools at the primary and upper primary level, although there are 143 million enrolled children.
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