: The massive cut in the budgetary allocation for the mid-day meal scheme for school children has invited harsh criticism from health activists and experts.
The allocation for the scheme, which aims at improving the nutritional status of children in government and local body-aided schools, had slipped from Rs. 13,215 crore to Rs. 9,236 crore in the Union budget. The chances of the State government stepping up assistance for the scheme got dashed after Finance Minister K.M. Mani presented his budget on March 13.
In his budget speech, the Minister said that States will be left with little money, if a large chunk of the increase obtained through the 14th Finance Commission award has to be devoted for schemes like ICDS, Indira Awas Yojana, NRLM etc.
‘Key schemes to be hit’
“Earlier, the Centre had funded these initiatives as vertical programmes. A disconnect has now emerged with the Centre withdrawing the assistance for such programmes and not increasing the State funding for it. I am afraid that this will become a serious issue affecting key programmes like immunisation, NRHM and child welfare schemes,” pointed out B. Ekbal, public health activist and former Vice Chancellor of Kerala University.
As per the official records, the monthly feeding strength (the number of children present at the time of meal) under the mid-day meal scheme in Ernakulam district is about 1.61 lakh.
Students from Classes 1 to 8 are the beneficiaries of the programme.
Urging the Union and State governments not to withdraw assistance to vital programmes like the mid-day meal scheme, Dr. S. Sachidananda Kamath, national president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, said that the executive of the academy passed a resolution last week requesting the government to continue support for child welfare and nutritional projects like the mid-day meal scheme. Any move to cut allocation for the programme will be detrimental, he said.