During the lockdown, various governments issued orders on the delivery of the mid-day meals to school students. But according to a status survey and the Centre's response in the Lok Sabha on Monday, many have been deprived of their rightful entitlement.
Mid-day meal is the entitlement of a child, guaranteed under the National Food Security Act, 2013. And extent per child per day norms of hot, cooked meals under mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) have been defined as well.
The 'Status Report— Government and Private Schools During Covid-19' filed by Oxfam India brings out the disconnect between government orders on ensuring the delivery of entitlement and its practice on the ground. “35% children are not receiving mid-day meals,” said the report authored by Ankit Vyas with a team of other researchers and contributors: Binod Sinha, Pratiush Prakash, Santosh Patra and Prakash Gardia among others.
The Oxfam report emphasised that the ongoing closure of schools has affected 27 crore children in India drastically. “In government schools, however, the impact of the pandemic is not restricted to education delivery alone. In addition to being a site of learning, a government school also provides entitlements such as mid-day meals (MDM), textbooks and other learning materials.”
Various governments have released orders regarding the continuation of MDM even during the lockdown and there have been efforts to continue delivery of education through various means, such as cable TV and the internet.
“Given this context, the study sought to examine the impact of the prolonged school closure on students, particularly in terms of their access to entitlements such as MDM and textbooks, and to the purported ‘classes’ being delivered by the government,” said the status report.
The fate of states
In March, the Supreme Court directed states to ensure supply of mid-day meals amid the closure of schools. All the states that form a part of the study—Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand— had issued government orders (GOs) regarding distribution of MDM.
“Despite this, the survey shows that 35% of children did not receive their mid-day meals. Of the remaining 65%, only 8% received cooked meals while 53% received dry rations and 4% received money (DBT) in lieu of the MDM,” said the status report.
Of the states surveyed, Uttar Pradesh fares the worst. The state has also hit the headlines on poor delivery of mid-day meals even in normal times. According to this status report, “92% children have been deprived of their mid-day meals (in any form) in Uttar Pradesh while Chhattisgarh fares the best where over 90% children have received mid-day meals.”
The probable cause for this could be the mode of MDM delivery as per the researchers of the status report. “While in UP, the government focused on providing a food security allowance in lieu of the MDM, Chhattisgarh focused on home delivery of rations,” they said in the survey now published.
It is a crucial study as it moves forward from the previous report that pointed out that “115 million children are on the verge of malnourishment due to the interruption of mid-day meals, of which children from Dalit and Adivasi communities are most at risk, given their dependence on MDM for nutrition”.
On September 14, 2020, education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank was asked by Member of Parliament Komatireddy Venkat Reddy about the delivery of mid-day meals in a Lok Sabha question. In his reply, Nishank said that during the lockdown it is not possible to provide hot, cooked meals. Hence, under the prevailing circumstances (Covid-19), the state governments and union territory administrations have been advised to provide Food Security Allowance (FSA) comprising food grains, pulses, oil, etc, (equivalent to cooking cost) to all eligible children till such time their schools are closed due to the pandemic.
The states and UTs were given the freedom to decide the modalities for the purpose of ensuring the entitlement, suitable to the prevailing circumstances.
As per the information received from the states and UTs, the state-wise details of number of children provided Food Security Allowance (FSA) during March-August 2020 was given to be 95,224,169 by the ministry of education.
The government informed the Lok Sabha on Monday that according to the state government of Goa, clearance is awaited from its finance department to the proposal for provisions under the Food Security Allowance. The Rajasthan government informed the education ministry that it is providing food grains only. Telangana is providing food kits of 12 kg rice per person and Rs 1,500 per family to BPL families.
Recommendations to the governments
While the report assesses the impact of prolonged school closure on children in government schools and concludes that a third of the students continue to be deprived of mid-day meals, it also gives a recommendation to ensure entitlements.
With regards to MDM, it has recommended that the government must ensure safe, home delivery of cooked meals/dry rations under the mid-day meal scheme; ensure access is unconditional (without documentation such as Aadhaar)
In this study, a total of 1,158 parents (across private and government schools) and 488 government school teachers across five states, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh participated. It was conducted between May and June 2020.
Data from government school parents was collected based on phone/personal interviews while private school parents and government teachers filled in data via Google Form.