Former Chief Secretary TV Antony credits Tamil Nadu’s success with population stabilisaton to the state’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Introduced way back in 1982, the scheme pushed up attendance in schools – mostly among girls — by over 16 per cent.
“A 2000 study found that young mothers in villages were aware of the concept of the two-child norm informally drilled into them during their school days, even though many dropped out after Class VIII,” says Antony. “The interesting aspect is that these young mothers started going to school just for the noon meal,” he said.
Tamil Nadu was among the first states to introduce the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in schools as an incentive for children to attend classes. It worked. Since its introduction in 1982, the scheme — called Free Noon Meal Scheme (FNMS) — currently covers 17.26 lakh children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years. Currently, the scheme is implemented in 41,344 schools covering 58.75 lakh children up to the tenth grade.
Typically, the meal includes rice, legumes, oil, iron-fortified salt, vegetables and condiments. Along with the meals, one boiled egg is given twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays, 20 grams of whole green gram or whole black Bengal gram are given on Thursdays, and 20 grams of boiled potato on Fridays. An additional Rs 40 crore has been given to give children two eggs per week to boost their protein intake.
The FNMS has helped improve the nutritional status of children considerably, from 41.40 in 1992-93 to 61.45 in 2005-06, and severe malnutrition has been reduced from 0.45 per cent in 1999 to 0.07 per cent in March 2006. The infant mortality rate has also dropped from 53 per 1,000 live births in 1998 to 42 in 2003.