39 lakh students in state deprived of midday meals

As per a recent survey conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) across the country, Maharashtra ranked 11 for its implementation of the Midday Meal Scheme (MMS) for children from Std I to Std VIII (primary section). The study revealed that about 32 per cent (39.62 lakh) school children were yet to be covered under the MMS. The survey was conducted between April and July 2013, just a month prior to the horrific food poisoning incident in Bihar.

“In Maharashtra, the total number of children studying between Std I and Std VIII, who are expected to be covered under the MMS, is 1,23,84,320. As per the survey, at present 84.18 lakh students are being covered under the scheme. There are various reasons behind this huge gap, but efforts are on to bridge it,” Mahaveer Mane, state education director (Primary), said.

Just above average
A permanent kitchen shed on the premises of the school to cook the meal was one of the required norms in the survey, but only 51 per cent of the government-aided schools fulfilled the criteria. “Of the total 65,783 government-run primary schools, only 33,595 had a permanent kitchen shed. However, the government is now promoting private-aided schools to construct kitchen sheds at subsidised rates.

As per the new scheme introduced by the central government, if any school pays 25 per cent of the amount to construct the shed, then the government will fund the remaining 75 per cent. For the current academic year, 6,000 schools from 22,000 in the state have been have been selected under the scheme,” Mane said.

He added that the centre had issued directives to be extra cautious, and safety of children should be the primary concern while implementing the scheme. “I have already passed on the instructions to all the district officials. We are stressing on distributing high quality food and an effective transport system,” Mane said.

“Red tapism by bureaucrats exists when it comes to implementation of the MMS. Many a time, due to public holidays or reasons like low attendance, the monthly quota of food grain doesn’t get utilised fully. In such cases, if we order less food grain in the next month. Rather than understanding the reason for doing this, authorities make us do tedious paperwork on why we ordered less.

Secondly, in case of a mishap, the entire blame is pinned on the principal. We had protested and even stopped MMS in the schools a few months ago, hoping that the government would change this rule. But apart from assurances, nothing has happened till date,” said a principal of a school in Chakan requesting anonymity.

The good and the bad
The survey also looked at the performance of other states in implementation of the midday meal scheme (MMS). While Punjab grabbed the pole position in effectively executing the MMS, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh and Gujarat performed above average. The worst performers for the centrally-sponsored scheme were Delhi, Goa, Sikkim and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which failed to implement the scheme with any competence, stated the survey.

Report card
Percentage Maharashtra scored on various fronts:
Grain distribution: 76%
Cooking cost: 80%
Transportaion: 81%
Kitchen shed: 51%

1.24 cr
Number of students expected to be covered under the MMS

84.18 L
Number of students covered under the MMS

No of government schools that have a permanent kitchen shed 

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