A Planning Commission report found serious flaws in the system, particularly in Bihar, where more than 22 children died recently after a eating a meal provided under the programme. Bihar, one of the most impoverished in India, had the worst satisfaction rates of the States surveyed, with only 22.1 per cent of children saying they were content with the food supplied under the programme.
India’s programme to provide free lunches for poor schoolchildren to supplement their diet and keep them in school has good intentions. Originally prototyped in 1925 in Chennai (then Madras), the programme has, despite its flaws, gone a significant way to meeting its goals. A report byIndia’s Planning Commission published in 2010 found that it had been successful in reducing classroom hunger. But it added that providing the so-called “midday meals” had no significant impact on enrolments in schools in its survey of 17 States. The federal Government will spend 132 billion rupees ($2.22 billion) on the programme this financial year, according to the latest budget.
The Planning Commission report found serious flaws in the system, particularly in Bihar, where more than 22 children died recently after a eating a meal provided under the programme. Bihar, one of the most impoverished in India, had the worst satisfaction rates of the States surveyed, with only 22.1 per cent of children saying they were content with the food supplied under the programme.
The other States had satisfaction rates of between 76 per cent and 99.5 per cent. About 72 per cent of children in Bihar said the quality of free school lunches was poor. Of the schools surveyed in Bihar, 50 per cent had store rooms for grain in their grounds. But 15.8 per cent were in such poor condition and so prone to infestation from rodents that they were not functional. A further 31.6 per cent were in average condition and the rest, just over half, were described as being in good condition. In the 50 per cent of schools without store rooms, food grains are kept in classrooms, depriving children of space needed for learning, the report said.
There were kitchen sheds, or makeshift cooking areas, in 42.5 per cent of schools surveyed inBihar. Half of them were in a poor condition, the report said. On average, 44.6 per cent of schools in the survey had kitchens, of those 16.8 per cent were in poor condition. The report found there was a serious shortage of cooks in most States and in general there was a visible shortage of basic infrastructure facilities and manpower. Adequate facilities and manpower are deemed crucial for the success of the meal programme. Most States don’t follow guidelines on delivering food grain to schools through the public distribution system, resulting in leakage in supply, the commission said. The process by which free grain reaches Government schools inIndia varies from State to State.
In Bihar, many departments are involved in a complex approval and supply system. In addition to the federal Government, the process of food grain allocation ties in at least two departments of the Food Corporation of India as well as three midday-meal offices at State, district and local level. Local contractors are also involved in delivering the food allocation to schools. Long and complex supply chains are prone to pilferage and can lead to adulteration of food grain, the Planning Commission said.
“Overall, in Bihar lack of proper planning and absence of proper coordination between Bihar State Food Corporation and district level officers has resulted in erratic supply of funds and food grain,” the report said. “Schools generally do not receive quota of food grain in a planned manner on a monthly basis, as a result of which a few schools were overstocked resulting in breeding of insects,” it added.
One district in Bihar called Rohtas spent just 43 per cent of the 109 million rupees ($1.8 million) it was allocated for the programme between 2004 and 2007. Bihar was slow to comply with the Supreme Court’s order in 2001 that all children in Government schools should receive a cooked meal during the school day. By 2010, all 69,204 Government schools in the State
were covered under the cooked midday meals programme, the Planning Commission’s report said. Since 2011, it has required schools to provide 700 calories and 20 grams of protein per meal a day.
– WSJ : How Bihar’s School Lunch Program Works