The Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has directed the Punjab government to conduct social audit of the mid-day meal programme this year to improve accountability and transparency in its implementation.The directive has been issued by the central ministry as the state’s school education department failed to carry out the social audit in the previous financial year. The audit of the flagship programme is mandatory under the provisions of section 26 of National Food Security Act, 2013, according to a letter received by the education department from the HRD ministry.Social audit is an accountability tool for collective monitoring, including review of official records, of a scheme with people’s active participation to ensure proper implementation, identify gaps in service delivery and determine the overall impact. It was first introduced in the programme in Andhra Pradesh in 2013.The school education department has also been directed to conduct the audit in at least 20 schools in each district by involving the social audit units set up under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and share the findings. Another direction is to hold regular meetings of the district level steering-cum-monitoring committees on monthly basis for proper implementation of the programme.The HRD ministry gave the instructions while sanctioning an outlay of Rs 270 crore for financial year 2019-20 at a meeting chaired by Union secretary, school education and literacy, Rina Ray, last month.Punjab’s education secretary Krishan Kumar, director general school education Mohammad Tayyab and director, State Council of Educational Research and Training, Inderjit Singh, were also present. Of this, the ministry will provide Rs 170 crore and the remaining Rs 100 crore will come from the state. The scheme – the largest school-lunch programme in the world – is jointly funded by the Centre and the state government on 60:40 sharing basis.The school education department has also been asked to ensure coverage of 100% children in primary and upper primary classes as it fell short of its target last year. It had proposed to cover 8.56 lakh primary and 6.25 lakh upper primary children, but could cover only 96% and 90% of them on an average. Only 91% children of primary classes were provided mid-day meals in Gurdaspur and Patiala which was lower than the state average.At upper primary level, the coverage in 13 districts, including Barnala, Muktsar, Mansa, Kapurthala, Fatehgarh Sahib and Hoshiarpur, was below 90%. Also, school lunch was given to these children on 240 days which was less than the required 255 school working days due to declaration of holidays by the state and district administrations.The fund-starved Punjab government has been asking the Centre from time to time to contribute a higher share to run the programme. In 2017, the ministry of human resource development had withheld the central grant for several months due to non-release of the state’s share by the government.