THE Maharashtra government may allow schools in the state to outsource midday meal with the consent of school management committees (SMCs). The Mid Day Meal Committee, constituted by the state government, recommended in early November that education societies which run more than one school can outsource midday meal to a single agency if the SMCs agree. The agency will then be responsible for cooking and delivering the meals to the schools.
The Mid Day Meal Committee was set up to look into persistent complaints from schools that the implementation of the Mid Day Meal scheme hampers the teaching process.
The recommendation, which has been forwarded to the state and Central governments for decision, was made after widespread protests from private schools, receiving government grants, in Pune and Nagpur this year demanding that the government set up an independent agency for cooking and serving midday meals. In Pune, about 1,000 schools boycotted the midday meal in August, following which the Mid Day Meal Committee was constituted. Meanwhile, the Nagpur district unit of the Maharashtra State Secondary and Higher Secondary School Principals’ Association, a body of principals from private schools, announced a similar boycott in Nagpur from October 1. However, it was postponed after education department officials informed the association that the issue was being deliberated.
Midday meal a liability: teachers
Speaking to Down To Earth, Nagpur Principals’ Association president and principal of Mahatma Gandhi Centennial Sindhu High School, Nagpur, Deepak Bajaj says that midday meal has become a liability for teachers and principals. They are responsible for record-keeping, stocking of food, monitoring the cooking process and serving the meal. “Teachers entrusted with these jobs have to spend two-three hours a day on these, which cuts into precious teaching time. What is worse, the government does not release funds on time.” His school, which has 3,200 students in the age group eligible for the Mid Day Meal scheme, has not received funds since the beginning of the current academic session.
Bajaj also says that government contractors supply rice bags weighing at least five to 10 kg less than the stipulated 100 kg per bag. Schools have neither the mechanism nor manpower to check the weight of each bag, he adds. “Later, we have to face the music when rice falls short.” He adds, “We are ready to monitor the quality of the meal and the process of serving food, but records, stocking and cooking should not be the schools’ responsibility. We don’t want the funds, and the additional burden that comes with it.”
Rigid rules cause food wastage
School principals have drawn the attention of the education department to inflexible rules that are causing colossal wastage of food. “A lot of food is wasted because of the government stricture that primary schoolchildren must be served 100 gm of food and secondary schoolchildren 150 gm. This means all children aged six to 10 get 100 gm of food. But every child cannot eat that much, so we end up wasting it,” explains Bajaj. Middle and upper-class children, especially in urban areas, often throw away food behind the teachers’ backs, he says.
Mrunalini Fadnavis, principal of Mahila Mahavidyalaya, located in Mahal, Nagpur, has carried out a research on the state of the Mid Day Meal scheme in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. She agrees with Bajaj that a lot of food is wasted, and believes that every school should have a say in how it implements the scheme. “In rural areas, a majority of children really need food. But in urban areas the situation is complex. In the same school, some students may need it while others don’t. And there are many schools where midday meal is not needed at all because the students come from well-off backgrounds,” she says.
The State of School Feeding Worldwide 2013
Number of institutions and Children covered under the Mid-Day Meal Scheme during 2009-10 to 2011-12 and the current year 2012-13
Mid Day Meal Scheme in India: Origin and Implementation