The contours of the new midday meal scheme
The Centre, on Wednesday, launched the Prime Minister POSHAN Scheme (PM-POSHAN) for providing one hot meal in government and government-aided schools, replacing the national midday meal programme. It will cover 11.8 million students in class 1-8 in 1.1 million schools. Over a five-year period, the Centre’s outlay will be ₹54061.73 crore, while the share of states and Union Territories is ₹31733.17 crore. The Centre will bear the additional cost of ₹45,000 crore on food grains, taking the total budget of the scheme to ₹130794.9 crore.
There are four highlights of PM-POSHAN. One, it will be extended to those in pre-primary segments. Two, there is a focus on promotion of nutritional gardens. Three, states will decide the menu. Four, audits of the scheme have been made mandatory.
The extension of the scheme to pre-primary students and the development of nutritional gardens can help enhance children’s mental and physical growth. Data from the first phase of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5, released last year, showed that India could be seeing an increase in child undernutrition. The share of stunted, wasted, and underweight children has grown in most states in which data was available. The early investment in nutrition, as PM-POSHAN hopes to do, could help reverse the trend. The push for kitchen gardens is also positive. These gardens can supplement the nutritional requirement of food served in schools and enhance children’s knowledge of nutrition. In India, many parents find it challenging to ensure nutritious and affordable food for their children. A well-resourced and properly implemented PM-POSHAN can be a crucial lifeline for their children.