Mithanin, a unique women empowerment that has done wonders in this Naxal affected tribal state, is soon to be replicated by the HRD ministry elsewhere effective monitoring of the midday meal scheme.
Started in the year 2003, primarily for monitoring health services, the 60,000 strong group of Mithanins (means friend in local parlance), now monitors most government schemes and act as feedback mechanism for the administration, even in the Naxal affected districts of southern Chhattisgarh.
For Mithanins like Ram Bhai, taking the job was a choice between caring for their children and facing the mighty men of the village. They opted for the former. "They told us what you women can do. We told them we will fight for our rights and that of your children," said Ram Bhai, sitting in a village school of Rokra alongwith other Mitanins.
Fighting against all odds, in two years, they have ensured that children get nutritious meal every day, teachers report to school and they teach. "Now men also support us as they realise that future of their children lies in schools and not homes," said Usha, a Mithanin from a nearby village.
Even today hiccups are there. Mithanins said they have to take money at a monthly interest of 15 per cent to buy vegetables and food for the midday meal.
"We have not got money from the government for the last three months. Nobody (in government) understands how we are running the scheme," Ram Bhai complained. However, the district officials blame the block level administration for the delay in disbursement.
Mithanins start their day early with inspection of an anganwadi centre ensuring that cooked dalia is brought prepared.
Thereafter, they visit the primary school to ensure that supply for the midday meal is proper. And, then is the turn of health centre to see whether patients are being looked after the patients. By the evening, they have prepared a report card of the day.
In case any deficiencies are found, it is discussed with other women of the village. "We first try to correct the mistakes by involving the staff in schools or dispensaries. If that does not work, we send our report to the district collector for further action. That creates a fear and respect for Mithanins and helps in bringing the change," said Ram Bai.
She also gave example of how a school teacher, who used to come drunk and never taught, was shunted out despite opposition from the gram panchayat. They also caught a teacher pilfering rice meant for midday meal scheme.
In Chhattisgarh, the concept has improved school enrolment rate and retention rate in government primary schools. Out of school children have reduced by 1.4 lakh in a year from 2.82 lakh students in 2004-05. Gross enrolment ratio has gone up to 96.67 per cent and as high as 104.85 per cent at the primary level.
State Sarva Siksha Abhiyan officials, however, admit that the drop out rate from primary level to upper primary level is as high as 15 per cent and is a matter of concern.
"Children after 5th standard drop out as incentive of food is not there," said Manohar Pandey, Director, Education, Chhattisgarh.
Also, the state has a huge backlog of vacant teacher's posts. "In over 60 per cent of schools in rural Chhattisgarh there is only one teacher in a school," said an official monitoring SSA scheme in the state.
Ravi Ramchandran of the HRD ministry termed Mithanins as a durable and viable option for the nation. Sameer Garg, advisor to Supreme Court on midday meal scheme, said the community involvement is complete and it is real empowerment of the people.
"It started in Koreya district three years ago and has now spread to entire state. This is enough evidence of the success of the scheme," he asserted, adding that most Mithanins from women from poor and uneducated background.