Centre to give ₹100 each to children covered by mid day meal scheme

Right to Food activists say this is insufficient to provide nutrition security

Updated - May 28, 2021 09:56 pm IST

Published - May 28, 2021 09:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Images used for representation purpose.

Images used for representation purpose.

The Centre has decided to give about ₹100 each to children studying in Class 1 to Class 8 in government schools, who are beneficiaries of the Mid Day Meal scheme. However, Right to Food activists say this is insufficient to provide the nutrition security envisaged by this measure.

The money, ₹1200 crore in total, will be given to 11.8 crore children through direct benefit transfer as a one-time payment, according to an Education Ministry statement on Friday. The money comes from the cooking cost component of the scheme, it said.

“This decision will help safeguard the nutritional levels of children and aid in protecting their immunity during the challenging pandemic times,” said the statement. “The Central Government will provide additional funds of about ₹1200 crore to State Governments and UT Administrations for this purpose.”

Cooking cost component

The total Central allocation for the Mid Day Meal scheme in 2021-22 is ₹11,500 crore. It’s largest component is cooking costs, which cover the prices of ingredients such as pulses, vegetables, cooking oil, salt, and condiments. Last year, the minimum allocation for cooking cost per child per day was set at ₹4.97 for Classes 1 to 5, and ₹7.45 for Classes 6 to 8, with the Centre paying 60% of the cost. The Ministry did not respond to queries on what proportion of the cooking component is being spent on this cash transfer, or how the remainder of the money will be spent.

“With schools being closed due to COVID-19, children are being given cash in lieu of the mid day meal in some places and dry rations in others. Either way, the quantities/amounts are too low to be even adequate for one nutritious meal a day,” said Dipa Sinha, associate professor of economics at Ambedkar University, noting that ₹100 per child amounts to less than ₹4 a day even if it was a monthly payment. “There will also be the transaction cost of going to the bank and withdrawing this money, plus difficulty given the lockdowns.” She suggested enhanced take home rations, including eggs, vegetables, fruits, dal/chana, oil be given in order to ensure nutrition security.

Last year’s arrears

Reetika Khera, a development economist at IIT-Delhi and a Right to Food activist, also said the Centre’s one time cash assistance would be insufficient. “With approximately 200 school days, each child should be getting something like ₹900-₹1300 annually [as cooking cost component]. All of last year, hardly any State did both — provide free grain and transfer these cooking costs. The government should transfer last year's arrears also,” she said.

She also pointed out that when a school gets the per child allowance for cooking costs, they are able to pool the money to purchase ingredients at wholesale prices. Even then, the amount is barely enough to meet the nutritional norms of the government (e.g., 20-30 gm of protein, 50-75 gm of vegetables). “When this same amount is used to buy small quantities [for each child], parents will be able to purchase even less,” she said.

She also urged the government to resume on-site feeding in a staggered manner in open spaces on school campuses, noting that providing dry rations and cash were a poor substitute for the hot meals usually given under the scheme.

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