Mid-day meal scheme: Tamil Nadu shows the way

Ninety-two per cent schools in the southern state have good kitchen infrastructure, which is now being upgraded with cooking gas facility

By Jitendra
Published: Friday 19 July 2013

On July 18, nearly 155 students fell ill after consuming contaminated mid-day meal in Neyveli town in Tamil Nadu's Cuddalore district. The incident marred an otherwise excellent record the state holds in providing mid-day meals to poor children and retain them in school.

Tamil Nadu, in fact, could serve as a model for the rest of poor performing states as far as implementing mid-day meals is concerned. The state has not only provided kitchen infrastructure to more than 92 per cent schools but has  also started upgrading and modernising it by providing cooking gas facilities. Complaint boxes have been installed in every school, BDO offices, district and state offices to redress grievances.

As for the Neyveli mishap, there is an explanation. “Such incidents happen where vigilance committees are weak. We have to work to strengthen community participation,” says Shanmuga Velayutham, a food right activist in the state.

State pumps in more funds

Tamil Nadu has also covered high school students under the mid-day meal scheme. The Centre's mid-day meal scheme is only for primary and middle school students. The contribution of state government in addition to what the Centre allocates for mid-day meals is much higher in comparison to that of other states.

“There is need of political will to implement such schemes,” says  Velayutham. “Under this programme, almost 80 per cent of students of state get covered, which costs the state exchequer around Rs 1,500 crore,” he adds.

The following table shows how the best-performing state spent funds on mid-day meals in comparison to other states.

Tamil Nadu spends more on each child
  Tamil Nadu Orissa Bihar
Primary level Rs 6.13 Rs 3.61 Rs 3.35
Upper primary level Rs 6.51 Rs 5.39 Rs 5.00

As of now, 110 million children are provided mid-day meals in 1.2 million schools across the country.

Effective community participation

In addition to higher allocation of funds, the state has also worked on community participation in providing school mid-day meals. The state has constituted vigilance committees at panchayat level to supervise mid-day meals. “These committees are very active in Tamil Nadu,” says Velayutham. “A study shows these committees carry out checks thrice a week in every school; the committee members include parents of students apart from teachers and local representatives,” says Velayuthan.

Bihar is the worst performing state in providing mid-day meal to children.
Bihar-based food rights activist with Koshish Charitable Trust, Ritwij Kumar, says the reason for Bihar's poor performance is poor monitoring by vigilance committees. “Parents who are members of the vigilance committees are not aware of their rights,” says Kumar.

“Many a time, during field visits, I never came across a single parent  supervising mid-day meal. Even teachers do not know the committee members listed on paper,” says Ritwij.

New Delhi-based food rights activist, Dipa Sinha, says governance is big problem in Bihar. There is no grievance redressal at the local level. “Apart from the fact that cooks are paid a meagre amount of Rs 1,000 per month in Bihar, the per head expenditure does not match food inflation. This is not only breeding corruption but also resulting mass illness and death of children,” she says.

Weak vigilance committees is another area of concern, says Sinha.

Well paid kitchen staff

Tamil Nadu has gone about implementing the scheme in a more organised way. The payment to the noon meal organiser (NMO) in the state is Rs 7,000, the cook and helper get Rs 5,000 each. Tamil Nadu is the only state which recruits  NMOs to organise mid-day meals. The staff also get pension benefits.

Civil society is now pressing the Tamil Nadu government to expand its menu. “Besides eggs and potatoes, we are demanding inclusion of millets and other coarse grains in the scheme,” says Velayuthan.

The scheme in the state, however, does face problems such as water shortage, unadequate community participation and poor social audit, he adds.

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