Resource centre on India's rural distress

Children have the right to eat eggs, onions and garlic -Dipa Sinha

-Down to Earth

The midday meal scheme for schoolchildren is increasingly getting politicised, as the upper class elite wants to impose its own religious/food beliefs on malnourished children

Most countries in the world now have some programme that provides midday meals to schoolchildren. School meals have been widely hailed for their multiple benefits — they increase enrolment and attendance, particularly of children from vulnerable groups; contribute to reduce “classroom hunger” and improve learning outcomes.

While the midday meal scheme in India started in states like Tamil Nadu much earlier, the provision of cooked food in government schools was universalised following a Supreme Court order in the 2001 Right to Food case.

At present, all Indian states provide hot cooked meals to children up to Class 8, for which the Union government provides foodgrains through the Food Corporation of India and the cost for other ingredients and cooking is shared by the state and Union governments.

Based on a number of independent evaluations as well as government reports, by far it is agreed that the midday meal scheme is one of the best implemented programmes of the government.

While a number of serious concerns related to the quality of the meals remain, more so in some poorer states, school meals are served on a regular basis.

With most children in government schools coming from poor and marginalised backgrounds, the value of the scheme is much appreciated by communities and parents. The challenge is to improve the quality and locate the midday meal scheme in the larger food system.

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