Tamil Nadu

Tracing the history of Tamil Nadu’s mid-day meal scheme

The Puratchi Thalaivar MGR-Nutritious Meal Programme is being implemented in 43,243 centres, with 48.57 lakh students being fed every day. Photo: File   | Photo Credit: A. Muralitharan

The ongoing controversy over the breakfast scheme in Chennai Corporation schools has brought to the fore Tamil Nadu’s track record in showing the way to the rest of the country when it comes to implementing the widely praised mid-day meal scheme.

A perusal of The Hindu Archives reveals that on November 17, 1920, the publication reported the adoption of a resolution by the Chennai Corporation Council, approving a proposal for providing tiffin to the students of a Corporation School at Thousand Lights at a cost not exceeding one anna per student per day.

Explaining the rationale behind the move, P. Theagaraya Chetty, the then President of the Corporation (the modern-day equivalent of which is Mayor) and one of the stalwarts of the Justice Party, said the boys studying at the school were poor, which affected the strength of the institution ‘greatly’. At the time, there were only 165 students in the school.

With the subsequent inclusion of four more schools into the scheme, the enrolment in all five schools showed dramatic improvement — from a combined strength of 811 in 1922-23 to 1,671 in 1924-25. But since the British government disallowed the expenditure on the supply of mid-day meals to students from the Elementary Education Fund, the scheme came to an end on April 1, 1925. It was revived two years later, benefitting around 1,000 poor students in 25 schools.

In 1956, then Chief Minister K. Kamaraj decided to extend the free meals scheme to poor children in all primary schools across the State. The Budget for 1956-57 contained a provision for supplying mid-day meals to schoolchildren from poor families for 200 days a year, initially covering 65,000 students in 1,300 feeding centres.

One-and-a-half annas

The government’s contribution amounted to one-and-a-half annas per meal, and the rest was borne by the local people, according to a report published by The Hindu on December 7, 1982, when a controversy erupted over who the author of the noon meal scheme was — Theagaraya Chetty or Kamaraj.

The controversy was triggered by then Chief Minister M. G. Ramachandran, who himself had improved upon the programme by extending its coverage to children in the age group of 2-5 years in Anganwadis and those aged 5-9 years in primary schools in rural areas in July 1982. Subsequently, the scheme — now named after him — was extended to urban areas as well. Since September 1984, students in the age group of 10-15 years have been covered under the scheme.

M. Karunanidhi, as Chief Minister during the short-lived DMK Ministry (1989-91), introduced the provision of boiled eggs once every fortnight, starting June 1989. The scheme was modified by Jayalalithaa in 2013, with the inclusion of variety meals along with masala eggs as per the children’s choice. According to the Budget document for 2020-21, the Puratchi Thalaivar MGR – Nutritious Meal Programme is being implemented in 43,243 noon meal centres, with 48.57 lakh students being fed every day.

As much as ₹1,863.32 crore has been provided for the programme in the Budget Estimates for 2020-21.

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Printable version | Oct 18, 2021 7:24:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/tracing-the-history-of-tamil-nadus-mid-day-meal-scheme/article30874858.ece

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