M3 Features

Midday meal scheme: Bengal shows the way

September 11, 2013

Food, one of the basic needs to survive, has to cross many hurdles to reach a poor man's plate. Famished half of the day, malnutrition posing a threat to life, education becomes a luxury, hard to afford for the little ones in an impoverished family.

Midday meal scheme, a welfare initiative was launched by the Government of India to provide nutrition and to keep the spirit of education alive among the poor children in overnment and government-aided schools.

Midday meal scheme is the world’s largest school-feeding programme catering to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools/EGS centres across the country. The scheme has encouraged poor families to send their little ones to school, with the hope that their children will at least enjoy one square meal a day. The scheme earned accolades from NGO’s, human rights activists and even the United Nations since inception.

However, the promising scheme has had its share of controversies as well. All is not hunky-dory in this tale of welfare; a harrowing picture of negligence and unhygienic conditions in the mid day kitchens is often recounted. Laboratory results show that nutritional value of the meals in many states below par, compared to the daily requirements of children in general. Tests have also revealed, time and again, the presence of uric acid and aflatoxin in the food grains supplied to the schools; this clearly is a threat to the health of children.

Even in this scene of despair, West Bengal has a tale of success to share. The achievement of the state government in implementing the welfare scheme has fetched even recognition from the Union government. A recently released report by the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development puts West Bengal among the top performers in the implementation of mid day meal project. Not only does West Bengal cater to the maximum number of students through this scheme, but also ensures 100% reach on all working days of the schools. Based on 11 parameters on which the states and UTs implementing the scheme were judged, West Bengal beat Karnataka, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar to make it to the top spot.

Even in the state’s capital, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) bosses are taking no chances to ensure foolproof cooked midday meals being served at its 253 primary schools. KMC’s education department in association with the state education department and Institute of Urban Management held a four-day training programme for all teachers of primary schools and Sarva Siksha Kendras (SSK). The action was initiated following the tragedy in Bihar where 22 school kids died after consuming contaminated midday meal. The caption for the training read ‘Deal the midday meal, with care and fair, Let all children eat and study here.’

There is a saying in Bangla - “khali pete dhormo hoy na” (one cannot perform their duties with an empty stomach). Children are the future of India, and to build a strong and prosperous nation, we must cater to the growth of children first.

Bengal has demonstrated to the rest of India, how it should be done. It is time for the country to follow.

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