States fail to implement MDMS with vigour, finds CAG report
In its performance audit of the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) carried out in 27 states (except Mizoram) and 7 Union Territories (UTs) during the period 2009-10 to 2013-14, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India has observed that the provision of noon meals in public schools could not stop children's enrolment in private schools because quality of education imparted is a major concern among the guardians. (Please check the links of the report below).
Therefore, on one hand, the enrolment of children in MDMS-covered schools has consistently declined over the years by 6 percent from 14.69 crore in 2009-10 to 13.87 crore in 2013-14, while on the other hand, during the same span enrolment of children in private schools went up by around 38 percent from 4.02 crore to 5.53 crore.
According to the performance audit report of the CAG, the declining trend in enrolments in MDMS-covered schools during 2009-10 to 2013-14 was noticed in Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Lakshadweep and Puducherry. In other states the enrolment had a varying trend.
Although one of the objectives of the MDMS was to encourage enrolment of poor children by providing them meals in schools, the CAG report has found that states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Punjab, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal and Delhi did not formulate any criteria to identify poor children coming from disadvantaged communities. On top of it, these states did not conduct any survey to identify such children. As a consequence, the said objective remained only on paper, says the CAG report.
The coverage of children under MDMS vis-à-vis enrolled children in schools varied between 71 percent and 78 percent during the period 2009-10 to 2013-14. The coverage of children in some of the states was even lower such as Jharkhand (54 percent), Tripura (60 percent), Uttar Pradesh (55 percent), Chandigarh (47 percent) and Delhi (61 percent) during 2013-14.
According to the CAG audit report, the reasons behind low coverage of children are: a. Children not attending the schools regularly; b. Some children not liking the meal served in the school and bringing home-made food in their tiffin; c. Interruption in supply of foodgrains to the schools; d. Serving of meal on less number of days as approved by Programme Approval Board; and e. Delay in receipt of funds by nodal department, districts, blocks and schools.
The MDMS did not contain any provision to enable children to either opt in or opt out of the scheme, says the CAG report.
Test check of schools by the CAG in Assam, Bihar, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, and Puducherry has indicated that there was no mechanism in place to check the quality of foodgrains.
In most of the test-checked schools in Arunachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Delhi, prescribed inspections were not carried out to ensure Fair Average Quality of foodgrains and quality of midday meal served.
The CAG report finds that most schools sample checked in audit were lacking in infrastructural facilities like kitchen sheds, proper utensils, availability of drinking water facility etc. There were numerous instances of food being prepared in open and unhygienic conditions exposing children to health hazards.
The CAG audit has found that there was no mechanism of maintaining buffer stock of foodgrains in Rajasthan, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep and Puducherry.
The MDMS, which provides food and nutrition security to school-going children has, thus, come under intense criticisms from the CAG due to various shortcomings and lapses across the board. Although the last performance audit of MDMS, undertaken during 2007-08, raised many red flags such as overreporting of enrolment figures, cases of leakages, financial indiscipline, poor quality of meals and inadequate monitoring, the present audit has disclosed that most of the earlier deficiencies still persist.
Despite such things, the funds earmarked for monitoring and evaluation was grossly underutilised. There was shortfall in inspections of schools by the officers at the district, tehsil/ taluka and block-levels. Grievance redressal mechanism has not yet been established for resolving complaints, says the present CAG report.
The examination of reports of Monitoring Institutions (MIs) of various states engaged by the Ministry of Human Resource Development for monitoring of the MDMS for the year 2012-13 has indicated that the percentage of actual number of children availing MDMS on the day of visit in various states was significantly lower as compared to the data furnished by respective states to the Ministry.
The data of enrolment and coverage of children collected from the states was inconsistent with the data maintained by the MoHRD, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, J&K, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tripura, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The CAG has taken note of instances of inferior quality of rice being exchanged for better quality of rice. The report finds that cases of financial indiscipline such as furnishing of incorrect Utilisation Certificates, misappropriation of funds and fudging of data to claim higher cost of foodgrains were widespread.
The CAG performance audit has found an institutionalised exaggeration of figures regarding students availing MDMS, irregular diversion or theft of foodgrains, submission of inflated transportation costs, fudging of data pertaining to supply of foodgrains, all pointing to widespread leakages and embezzlements, leading to losses and misappropriations in the scheme.
The CAG report shows that the rates of cooking cost have not been revised in proportion with inflation so as to provide meal with nutritional norms and calorific value prescribed under the MDMS. States such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh have failed to utilize funds given for LPG subsidy, finds the CAG report.
Despite MDMS being financed entirely by the Centre and state governments, NGOs such as ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (operating in Mumbai and Tirupati) collected huge donations in the name of noon meal scheme, which was inappropriate.
Adequate numbers of health check-ups of children were not conducted, in the absence of which the impact of MDMS on the nutritional status and required micronutrient supplements of the children could not be ascertained, says the report.
The CAG report shows that for all the years (except 2010-11) during the period 2009-10 to 2013-14, the amount actually spent on MDMS was not only lesser than what was actually released and what was the revised estimate, it was even lower than the budget estimate. This means that despite the MDMS being a centrally sponsored scheme (cost of MDMS is shared mostly by the Centre), the Union Government in the said period did not provide adequate financial resources as was promised in the budgets.
The delay in releasing funds at various levels in state has caused interruption in serving meal to children in schools, says the CAG report.
Report no.-36 of 2015-Union Government (Civil) - Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Performance Audit of Mid Day Meal Scheme
Please click link 1 to access
Please click link 2 to access
Policy guide for Centrally Sponsored Schemes, PRS Legislative Research, please click here to access
States have failed to tap full potential of school midday meal scheme and maximize welfare -Pyaralal Raghavan, The Times of India, 20 December, 2015, please click here to access
CAG Finds Mid-day Meal Scheme Stats Cooked Up, The New Indian Express, 19 December, 2015, please click here to access
Exaggeration of figures in Mid Day Meal scheme: CAG, The Economic Times/PTI, 18 December, 2015, please click here to access
Image Courtesy: Himanshu Joshi