New Delhi: Midday meals for schoolchildren will be extended into the summer vacation in drought-hit parts of the country so that needy children don’t go hungry when schools are closed.

The human resource development (HRD) ministry said on Monday it has already approved the holiday meals—served via the government’s midday-meal programme—for 228 districts in nine states.

The states are: Karnataka (27 districts), Madhya Pradesh (41), Chhattisgarh (25), Maharashtra (22), Rajasthan (19), Uttar Pradesh (50), Odisha (27), Andhra Pradesh (10) and Telangana (seven).

In a written reply in the Lok Sabha, HRD minister Smriti Irani said that the programme approval board for the midday-meal scheme has approved a budget of 726 crore for the purpose.

The central government shall pay 468.89 crore into the amount and the rest will be borne by the state governments.

The central government’s move is expected to benefit some 25.5 million schoolchildren, or nearly 25% of all midday meal beneficiaries, usually school-going children from poor families.

A majority of these students are from three drought-hit states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.

Irani said the HRD ministry has already released an amount of 211.67 crore to nine states.

India is in the grip of a severe drought, with nearly 40% of its districts facing weather uncertainties that may the affect rural economy.

After a drought in 2015, this year, 11 states have declared 266 districts as drought-affected.

In the last fiscal year, after a deficit monsoon, the Union government approved an allocation of 13,496 crore from the national disaster response fund to help states cope with crop losses.

At least 800 million Indians live in rural areas, and a majority of them depend on farming for livelihood. India has more people living in poverty than any other country and most of them live in the countryside.

“The decision to serve midday meals in such a huge number of districts was taken keeping in mind the ground realities. In tough times like drought, midday meals will be a great help to affected families," said an HRD ministry official, who declined to be named.

The announcement comes after Prime Minister Narendra Modi reviewed the drought situation in several states on 7 May.

Modi said the central government and the states should work together to tackle drought, which he described as “our" problem, according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

“He said that solutions to the problem would have to be found together," a PMO statement said.

Prasanna Pradhan, a school teacher in drought-hit Keonjhar district of Odisha, welcomed the move, saying midday meals were also a great way to attract first-generation learners to school and arrest the drop-out rate.

“Midday meals during the drought will benefit both students and poor families. In a way, it will reimpose the faith of affected people in the school system," he added.