New Delhi: A parliamentary committee on Thursday criticized the human resources development (HRD) ministry over the poor implementation of the Mid Day Meals (MDM) scheme, a flagship social welfare programme aimed at arresting school dropout rates by providing nutritious food.
In its report to Parliament, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on MDM cites diversion of funds and foodgrains, teachers having to get involved in preparing meals and spending less time in teaching, and lack of food hygiene.
MDM aims to eliminate classroom hunger and arrest the dropout rate. In India, nearly half the students enrolling in class I drop out before reaching class X, owing mostly to poverty and hunger. There are some 133 million students in India’s primary schools.
“The committee feels that institutional apathy and lack of concerted efforts should not be allowed to creep in implementing such an important social welfare scheme of national coverage aimed at bringing better primary education through elimination of classroom hunger... lest it should be reduced to mere bureaucratic exercise,” said the report of the committee, which is headed by former HRD minister Murli Manohar Joshi, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader.
MDM is largely funded by the 2% education cess. In the fiscal 2011, the Centre allocated Rs9,440 crore for the scheme with the cess contributing 63% of the total allocation, according to an analysis of MDM by the Accountability Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research.
The PAC said the diversion of funds and foodgrains was confirmed in six states—Kerala, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and Bihar. The committee has directed the HRD ministry “to pursue all such cases to fix responsibility and take appropriate punitive measures”. Mint has reviewed the report.
The PAC, which comprises parliamentarians across parties, objected to teachers being forced to help prepare food. It sought an assurance from the HRD ministry that the involvement of teachers will be limited to monitoring serving of meals. “Options may be explored for enlisting the services of experienced and dependable caterers in serving the midday meal in specifically suitable locations,” the committee said.
The HRD ministry said it was aware of the problems and has asked the states concerned to furnish a detailed report, said a senior ministry official. Hiring caterers may be difficult as it will increase expenditure substantially and may lead to other logistical issues, the official said, requesting anonymity.
The committee said kitchens needed to be built at the schools that didn’t have them, within the current fiscal year. There are about 260,000 schools that don’t have this.
It also wants hygiene standards to be improved.