The union cabinet on Wednesday approved a revamped and expanded version of the mid-day meal scheme called the National Scheme for Prime Minister Poshan (nutrition) with an allocation of Rs 1.3 trillion crore for five years starting from 2021-22 of which Centre’s share will be nearly Rs 1 trillion, spread over the five years.
In this Rs 1 trillion, around Rs 45,000 crore will be spent on providing subsidised foodgrains from the food ministry over the years.
This leaves Rs 55,000 crore purely for the scheme, which is Rs 11,000 crore per year.
In 2021-22 Budget, the Centre provided Rs 11,500 crore for the mid-day meal scheme. Civil society activists alleged that Modi government in the last seven years has cut the budget for the scheme by almost 38 per cent in real terms.
A major highlight of the scheme, according to an official statement, is that coverage will now extend to the students studying in pre-primary or Bal Vatikas of government and government-aided primary schools in addition to all the 118 million children from elementary classes studying in government schools.
That apart, under the revamped mid-day meal scheme, a concept of ‘Tithi-bhojan’ will be introduced. ‘TithiBhojan’ is a community participation programme in which people provide special food to children on special occasions or festivals.
Social has been made mandatory in all the districts under the scheme now while special provision has been made for providing supplementary nutrition items to children in aspirational districts and districts with high prevalence of Anemia
“The existing mid-day meal scheme will be subsumed into the PM Poshan Shakti Nirman scheme with the addition of several new components in it,” Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said after the meeting of the union cabinet.
In 2020-21, the Centre spent more than Rs 24,400 crore on the mid-day meal scheme, which included a cost of about Rs 11,500 crore on foodgrains.
Earlier, in May this year, the Centre decided to transfer its share of the cooking cost component in the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) scheme for students of classes 1-8 directly into their bank account as a one-time COVID relief.
This was done as several governments run and government aided schools across the country are closed due to the pandemic for the last several months which has denied the children their daily hot-cooked meals as provided under the MDM scheme.
However, civil society activists and others said that the amount that will be directly transferred is too meagre and at current rate translates into a one-time direct transfer of just Rs 100 per child.
A recent study found that girls who received free meals in primary schools of India as part of the decades-old Mid-Day Meal (MDM) programme have been found to give birth to children who have better linear growth.
The study which was published in journal Nature Communications, titled ‘Intergenerational nutrition benefits of India’s national school feeding program’ used nationally representative data on mothers and their children spanning 1993 to 2016 to assess whether MDM supports intergenerational improvements in child linear growth.
The MDM scheme was launched by the central government in 1995 to provide free cooked meals to children in government and government-assisted primary schools (classes 1-5; ages 6–10 years).
Initially, states did not participate in the scheme, but between 1999 and 2004, the program’s coverage increased manifold, largely due to an order from the Supreme Court of India directing state governments to provide cooked mid-day meals in primary schools, the study found.
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