With less than one-half of government school students in elementary Classes (1 through 8) availing free lunches, coverage of the centrally funded Midday Meal Scheme in Chandigarh is the lowest among all states and union territories, according to the human resources development ministry’s latest appraisal of the scheme.
The report, based on the minutes of the ministry’s programme approval board that assessed implementation of the scheme in New Delhi in May, stated that coverage had been steadily declining during the past three years, which required an urgent review.
According to the latest figures, only 51% of primary (Classes 1 through 5) and 47% of upper primary students (classes 6 through 8) availed midday meals in 2013-14 (see box).
One of the major reasons for the lacklustre performance is the poor response to the scheme, especially in schools in urban areas of the union territory where the number of students availing of midday meals is far lower than elsewhere.
Students in many of the city’s “model” schools, especially those from comparatively better economic backgrounds, often have the impression the scheme is meant for poor kid only. Also, many parents prefer that their children avoid the free lunches, especially after the Bihar midday meal tragedy last year that left 23 schoolkids dead. This is backed by UT director of public instruction Kamlesh Kumar’s view stated in the report that the tragedy had affected the scheme’s coverage.
Another factor that might be responsible is the lack of variety in the meals served to students. UT education secretary Sarvjit Singh recently told HT that the administration was making efforts to bring about regular changes in the meal menu to draw more students.
The ministry’s report also highlighted other issues that required the UT administration’s urgent attention. For instance, classrooms should be cleaned up after meals are served.