World's biggest meal scheme may be extended up to secondary level but the poor enrolled in private schools will not get government sponsored food owning to distinction it will create.
Over 12 crore children up to upper primary level in 12.65 lakh schools across India are entitled to get hot cooked meal once a day, a probable reason for over 10% jump in enrolment in schools in less than a decade.
The success has pushed HRD ministry led by Kapil Sibal to seek funds from the Planning Commission to expand the programme to the secondary level in a bid to retain students. "We expect the expansion in the 12th five year plan," Sibal said.
The idea is to reduce drop-out rate of children from upper primary to secondary level while improving the nutritional value. Less than 50 % of children taking admission in upper primary level enroll for secondary level.
Various studies have shown that food is an incentive for many parents to send their children to schools. "But the quality is food in many states is still a problem," a ministry official said.
The annual midday meal budget is about Rs 10,380 crore and the HRD ministry estimates an additional burden of about R2,000 crore for the expansion. For every child in upper primary level, the ministry provides R3.75 plus the cost for bringing food grains to the school. The ministry has, however, ruled out providing midday meal in private schools where 25% of admissions are reserved for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) saying it will create a class distinction.