The mid-day meal scheme — the world’s biggest cooked-meal programme aimed at combating malnutrition and pulling poor children into schools — is facing a grain shortage and may be disrupted. That’s because the HRD ministry and the Department of Food and Public Distribution are locked in a payment spat.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI) isn’t allowing states to lift foodgrains because it wants payment before procurement.
The ministry is insistent on payment after procurement, the practice it has followed since the scheme’s inception in 1995.
The standoff, if not resolved, will affect 117.7 million children.
Many states — including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Punjab — have written to the ministry, saying they won’t be able to provide meals if they can’t lift grains from the FCI stores. Grains left over from last year will most likely run out in a fortnight.
"We have 15 per cent of allocated stocks from the previous year. But school began on April 1 and we will be in trouble if this standoff is not resolved," said the officer in charge of the scheme in Rajasthan, which feeds 6.5 million children.
Jharkhand and Maharashtra, which cater to 3.9 million and 12.2 million children, don’t have any stock.
"Before states can utilise stock from last year, it has to be revalidated by the FCI. This hasn’t been done for these states," a ministry official said.
The FCI, which received a corpus fund of Rs 300 crore from the ministry at the start of the year, isn’t ready to budge.
"For all other schemes, we give stock against pre-payment," said one official but added: "We’ll do what the government decides."