The UPA government's cap on subsidised LPG cylinders threatens the mid-day meal scheme, human resource development (HRD) minister MM Pallam Raju cautioned on Wednesday, as his ministry struggles to keep the school lunch programme unaffected.
The scheme, the world's largest school-feeding initiative, reaches over 100 million children every day, and is credited with helping India achieve almost universal enrollment in primary school.
"Our immediate challenge is how the mid-day meal scheme will be affected by the gas rates hike," Raju said. "The mid-day meal is a key reason for our increase in school enrollment and I remain committed to its quality."
The minister's concern points to an ongoing tussle between the HRD ministry and the petroleum ministry over the impact of the government's new LPG policy on the mid-day meal scheme. Raju's predecessor Kapil Sibal had written to his petroleum counterpart seeking an exemption from the cap for schools at least for the current fiscal.
The cap of six cylinders per institution or household, introduced as a part of a new wave of economic reforms introduced by the Manmohan Singh government, forces schools to purchase extra cylinders at market rates, the HRD ministry argues. This will increase the financial burden on states, which will in turn ask the Centre for assistance.
But the petroleum ministry has not exempted schools, triggering the crisis and prompting the HRD ministry to look for alternative solutions.
The mid-day meal scheme is offered at every government-funded school and madrasa, for students in classes 1 to 8.