Bangalore: In the wake of rising food and fuel prices, the ministry of human resource development, which oversees education, has raised the government’s contribution to the Mid-day Meal Scheme by 5%.
But state governments say it’s still not enough. “We are afraid we will have to cut down on the dal or vegetable if the Centre does not step up the funding. This 5% increase is just not enough as the cost of oil has gone up by 100%, and of other ingredients by 40%,” said a Madhya Pradesh government official who requested anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Annual inflation touched a four-year high of 8.1% in mid-May. The global picture is similar or worse, leading United Nations World Food Programme executive director Josette Sheeran to describe the food crisis as the “silenttsunami”.
Children line up for mid-day meals in a New Delhi primary school. Under the programme, each meal ought to provide a minimum of 450 calories plus 15-20g of protein (Photo by: Sanjay Sharma / Mint)
In April, the Indian government increased its fund allocation from Rs1.50 to Rs1.58 in classes I-V of primary schools.
This academic year will also see the government expand the scheme to reach classes VI-VIII of upper primary classes, with a contribution of Rs2.10 per child, per day, per meal up from the previously projected Rs2.
In the Mid-day Meal Scheme, the Union government provides the foodgrain, wheat in north India and rice in the south.
The Union and state governments and the implementing not-for-profit organizations split the cost for vegetables, dal, cooking oil, spices, cooking fuel and diesel/petrol for transportation of cooked food from the centralized kitchen to the schools.
The menu consists of rice and sambhar in the southern states and chappatis, dal and vegetables in the northern states.
A meal is supposed to provide a minimum of 450 calories plus 15-20g of protein, according to ministry guidelines. “The way prices are increasing we cannot purchase a proper square meal with the current level of funding,” said an Orissa government official.
An official of the human resource development ministry said it was considering a further increase. Last year, the scheme reached about 100 million children across one million schools in 35 states.
“We have raised the Union government’s contribution to the programme factoring in inflation. The labour bureau recommended that we increase the funding by 5%,” said another government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The government’s labour bureau is responsible for collation of statistics related to wages, productivity and consumer price movements.
States have suggested that the Union government raise its contribution from Rs1.50 to Rs2.75 per child per day at the primary school level and from Rs2 to Rs3.75 at the upper primary level.
State governments contribute a minimum of 50 paise per child per day per meal.
Some states such as Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have upped or are about to raise their contribution to the scheme.
Karnataka has increased the state government’s contribution to Rs366 crore this year from Rs330 crore last year, while Uttar Pradesh plans to raise its funding by 20% to Rs227.54 from Rs189.62 crore spent last year.
Karnataka has been quick to act since schools reopened on Monday across the state. Across the country, schools will reopen after summer holidays in a staggered manner between June and July.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation is one of the largest non-profits implementing the Mid-day Meal Scheme across Karnataka, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Orissa. Its vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Das said it expected a 10% increase in costs due to inflation. Akshaya Patra will feel the pinch of more expensive food items and diesel.
Diesel powers its boilers used for cooking, and runs the vehicles, which travel an average of 60-75 km every day to transport the cooked food from its 12 kitchens to the beneficiary schools.
“Our fund-raising activities will have to pick up because we are deep in debt at the moment,” said Das.