Food for serious thought | india | Hindustan Times
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Food for serious thought

In pursuing the uplift of the oppressed and the underprivileged, it?s time HRD Minister Arjun Singh inquired about one scheme that has the potential of making a real difference on the ground ? the mid-day meal.

india Updated: May 22, 2006 00:58 IST

In pursuing the uplift of the oppressed and the underprivileged, it’s time HRD Minister Arjun Singh inquired about one scheme that has the potential of making a real difference on the ground — the mid-day meal. In a country where some 20 per cent of children in the 6-14 age group have no access to basic education, the free mid-day meal was incentive enough to draw  children to attend school. (It is now served daily to nearly 12 crore children all over the country.) Along with higher enrolment, there also has been a perceived reduction in the number of girl student drop-outs. However, whatever this scheme has achieved since its nationwide inception in 1995 — or, even since the Supreme Court’s order to all state governments in 2001 to make it mandatory — could be undone in no time at all if the government continues to ignore the low quality of food supplied and the lack of hygiene in preparing it.

Though the Centre has decided to almost double the allocation for the scheme from Rs 3,345 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 5,348 crore for 2006-07, its benefits will be hard to spot unless there is a more thorough monitoring process in place. In the last one year alone, there has been a shocking regularity in reports of schoolchildren across the country falling ill after consuming mid-day meals. There are allegations of fair price shops supplying low quality foodgrains — or sometimes not even that —  to the schools under the scheme while selling the allocated stocks at a higher price in the market. It’s reported that at times teachers end up cooking the meals. But most disquieting are the severely unhygienic conditions in which many of these meals are prepared.

The mid-day meal scheme is designed to impact school attendance and realise the goal of providing primary education to all. If implemented in the right spirit, Mr Singh may find his worries about the underprivileged taken care of to a considerable extent.