After assuming the office of Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu by swearing “I, Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin” last year, I feel, Thursday’s inauguration of the Breakfast Scheme for students of classes I to V, will remain in the golden pages of history and bring a positive change in the lives of my people.
We have enabled the schoolchildren to get their breakfast before attending their classes. The ‘Athimoolam’ (root cause) of the problems faced by the suppressed and marginalised people in the society must be identified and suitable remedies be provided. That is why, we have launched this scheme in Athimoolam Primary School, Madurai. It is a coincidence that the school is located in Keezh Anna Thoppu. I am proud to be one of Anna’s (former CM Annadurai) younger brothers to have started this scheme on his birth anniversary. Exactly, 102 years ago, on September 16, one of the leaders of the Justice Party, Sir Pitti Thiagarayar passed a resolution to introduce mid-day meal scheme for children in Chennai Corporation. After a century, the breakfast programme is being launched.
Breakfast Schemes in schools have been implemented in many states of United States of America by the Department of Agriculture. Such schemes have been introduced in European countries, particularly in France three years ago. Research shows that providing breakfast in schools improves the learning ability of students and increases attendance. Analysts say the demand for breakfast schemes has increased after the COVID-19 pandemic. I am ready to make any sacrifice to alleviate the poverty of the Tamil community and hunger of the children. Now I see the joy on the faces of children as they get their breakfast. I have no words to explain my happiness.
The Dravidian movement was established to ensure children belonging to poor and suppressed families should not be prevented from going to school. That is why the doctrine of Self-respect and Social Justice were coined. Communal reservation was brought as Thanthai Periyar (E.V. Ramasamy), Perarignar Anna (Annadurai) and Muthamizh Arignar (M. Karunanidhi) thought neither poverty nor caste should be a hindrance to one’s education. I am overwhelmed that I, the follower of their path, have come to a position to fulfil their dreams and have implemented it.
We believe the children of Tamil Nadu should not starve at any cost. ‘Ayodhidasa Pandithar’ (a Dalit icon) was the first to express the noble intention of providing food to schoolchildren along with education. In the early period of 1900, he sowed the seed for the idea of providing mid-day meals in the Olcott Memorial schools in Chennai region. A few months before India’s independence, the meal scheme was discontinued by the British government citing financial crisis.
The mid-day meal scheme was started in 1956 when Perunthalaivar Kamarajar was the Chief Minister. Then Director of Public Education N.T.Sundaravadivelu, an ardent follower of Periyar, was the one who implemented it despite strong opposition from some officials.
To enhance this scheme, in 1971, Chief Minister Karunanidhi took charge of the Nutritional Meals Programme. He made it a grand movement by providing nutritional meals to children and pregnant mothers. He offered nutrient-rich bread to children (aged up to 3 years in municipalities around Chennai). In 1975, he launched an Integrated Nutritional Programme across the state.
‘Makkal Tilagam’ M.G. Ramachandran, as Chief Minister, took great efforts to expand it setting up more centres and allotted more funds. In 1989, Karunanidhi added egg in the nutritious meal; he also added chickpeas, green gram and boiled potatoes. In 2010, he extended eggs for five days a week and provided bananas to those who do not prefer eggs. Former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa Amma ordered the provision of variety rice during her regime.
When I attended a programme at a school in Chennai, I asked a few children if they’d had their breakfast. They replied ‘no’. Later, when I consulted the authorities, they said that many children come to school skipping breakfast. I thought no child should attend classes with empty stomach. Under the Chief Minister’s Breakfast Scheme, 1.14 lakh children from 1,545 schools will benefit at a cost of ₹12.75 per day / per child. I quote the ‘cost’ in administrative terminology. In fact it is not an expenditure; it is the duty of our government! We will progressively expand this project and take all steps expeditiously for its implementation to the fullest. Such schemes should not be counted as freebies, charity, gift or privilege. This is the bounden duty and responsibility of the government!
Students learn comfortably once hunger is satiated. They grasp easily and attend the school with enthusiasm. There will be a regular attendance in schools. Tamil Nadu will have a great educational ratio. If a person who benefits from this scheme occupies the highest position later, the benefits to the society remain immeasurable. For me, the schemes devised for education, medicine, and the mitigation of hunger stand beyond criticism. These schemes form a face of governance. I request the people to measure the success of the government only with such schemes.
(M.K. Stalin is the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu)