The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation, plans to extend its midday meal scheme to four major cities in Uttar Pradesh.

The foundation provides hot cooked food to over 1.64 lakh school children here and in Mathura at present in public-private partnership mode. It intends to cover one lakh children each in Lucknow and Kanpur, 50,000 children in Varanasi and Agra each and 25,000 children in Kannauj by next year.

Welcoming the proposal, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav who visited the foundation’s modern kitchen facilities here on Saturday assured its chairperson Madhu Pandit Dasa that the State government would expedite the process so that the new kitchens could be started at the earliest. “It would still need at least one year before land is acquired and the kitchen set up. It requires a huge budget,” Mr. Dasa told The Hindu.

Mr. Yadav announced that the State government would seek assistance from all such organisations that work to provide hygienic and nutritious food to children.

In addition to announcing various developmental projects for Mathura and Vrindavan, Mr. Yadav said the State would start distribution of free laptops and tablets to Class X and XII students. The laptops would be available in English, Hindi and Urdu languages.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation came into existence in 2000 to address two of the most immediate challenges of the country — hunger and education. Uttar Pradesh has a high rate of malnutrition and the Chief Minister has already made a commitment to tackle the issue.

The foundation supplies midday meals to madrasas also covering about 1 per cent of the 120 million children in primary schools. It started its programme by providing quality midday meals to 1,500 children in five schools in Bangalore. Twelve years down the line, the new kitchens, one in Surat which has already begun and will serve 1,00,000 children, and the other in New Delhi which will reach 75,000 children, will take up the number up considerably.

The foundation’s programme is the largest midday meal programme in the world and it has already provided food to the billionth child in India. Started in 2003, the centralised kitchen here can cook close to 6,000 kg of rice, 4.5-5 tonnes of vegetables and 6,000 litres of sambar in six hours which is then supplied to over 1,200 government primary schools.