The Union government is set to conduct an audit of the ₹11,000 crore school meal programme across India, following the controversy surrounding the quality of food served in some schools in Uttar Pradesh.
Schools from every district in India will go through a thorough review, which is expected to start within the next couple of weeks.
The exercise will look at all aspects of the programme, including the procurement of foodgrain, monitoring, nutritional value, and the satisfaction level of students, said two government officials, requesting anonymity.
The mid-day meal scheme is one of the largest school meal programmes in the world and caters to more than 91.2 million students across 1.13 million schools.
“We are going to conduct a review of the scheme to improve its outcome and satisfaction level," said one of the two officials mentioned above.
“The scheme has done a whole lot of good to students, especially in rural India, as it helps in improving their nutritional intake and enrolment in schools. However, it is getting embroiled in controversies at the state and district levels largely because of the sub-standard food some schools are serving, and because there is not enough monitoring and accountability at the lower levels," said the second official.
“The regularity and wholesomeness of meals served to children, interruptions, if any, and the reasons will be reviewed," the second official said. The problems in serving meals regularly and the action taken to avoid interruptions in future, as well as how schools are cooking, serving and supervising mid-day meals, will be reviewed by experts.
“As the community is a part of the scheme, authorities may entrust the parents’ committees in schools with the role of improving the meal programmes at the block and panchayat levels," he added.
Earlier this month, the school meal programme became a topic of national debate after a journalist in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, showed a video report on how a school was serving “roti and salt" to students. The district education administration filed a police complaint against journalist Pawan Jaiswal, evoking wider criticism from the media and academia. The human resource development ministry has asked the district administration to file a report on the issue. However, it is not the first time that the mid-day meal scheme has got into controversy.
An upper primary student had died and more than 60 were hospitalized allegedly after having the school meal in Jharkhand in August 2018. In July 2018, at least 30 students suffered food poisoning after having the mid-day meal in Delhi. In October last year, 45 children in Goa were hospitalized after having the mid-day meal. At least, 23 children had died in Bihar’s Chhapra district in 2013 after consuming contaminated mid-day meal.
Critics feel that the school meal programme is focusing more on infrastructure than the health of students, said the second official. “Its partially true and the Centre and state authorities, as well as the district education administration, have to chip in. Hopefully, once the review of the scheme is over, we shall know the fresh pain points and take action to create a sense of accountability among authorities concerned, and the schools," the official said.