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Tamilnadu's Pioneering Midday Meal Scheme

          The roots of the programme can be traced back to the Pre-Independence era when a Mid day Meal Scheme was introduced by the British administration in 1925 in Madras Corporation.  The Government of India initiated the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) on 15th August 1995.
          With a view to enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on 15th August 1995.              
       Objectives: The objectives of the mid day meal scheme are to improve the nutritional status of children in classes I – VIII in Government, Local Body and Government aided schools, and EGS and AIE centres. 
          Finances : The central and state governments share the cost of the Midday Meal Scheme, with the centre providing 60 percent and the states 40 percent. The Central Government provides grains and financing for other food. Costs for facilities, transportation, and labour is shared by the federal and state governments. The participating states contribute different amounts of money. While the eleventh five-year plan allocated 384.9 billion (US$5.4 billion) for the scheme, the twelfth five-year plan has allocated 901.55 billion (US$13 billion), a 134 percent rise. The public expenditure for the Mid Day Meal Programme has gone up from 73.24 billion (US$1.0 billion) in 2007–08 to 132.15 billion (US$1.9 billion) in 2013–14. The per day cooking cost per child at the primary level has been fixed to 4.13 (5.8¢ US) while at the upper primary level is 6.18 

Centralised model : In the centralised model, an external organisation cooks and delivers the meal to schools, mostly through public-private partnerships.  Centralised kitchens are seen more in urban areas, where density of schools is high so that transporting food is a financially viable option. Advantages of centralised kitchens include ensuring better hygienic as large scale cooking is done through largely automated processes. Various Non Governmental Organisations such as the Akshaya Patra Foundation, Naandi Foundation, and Jay Gee Humanitarian Society & People's Forum provides mid-day meals.                                                                                                              A study of centralised kitchens in Delhi in 2007 found that even with centralised kitchens, the quality of food needed to be improved.  The study also found that when the food arrives and is of inadequated quality, even teachers feel helpless and do not know whom to complain to.                                                                                                          

The Ministry of Human Resource Development reported that 95% of tested meal samples prepared by NGOs in Delhi did not meet nutritional standards in 2010–12. In response, the ministry withheld 50% of the payment for the deficient meals.

        International assistance : International voluntary and charity organisations have assisted. Church World Service had provided milk powder to Delhi and Madras Municipal Corporation; CARE has provided corn soya meal, Bulgar wheat, and vegetable oils; and UNICEF has provided high proteins foods and educational support. In 1982, 'Food for Learning' was launched with assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Initially the programme was aimed at scheduled caste and scheduled tribe girls. In 1983, the federal Department of Education prepared a scheme under the auspices of the World Food Programme to supply meals to 13.6 million scheduled caste girls and 10.09 million scheduled tribe girls in classes one to five in 15 states and three union territories. The value of the food itself was $163.27 million per year. Labour, facilities, and transportation costs were to be paid by the state governments. The reaction among the states and union territories was mixed. Many states were interested, but some were concerned about their ability to afford it if the FAO support were to be withdrawn.                      Tithi Bhojan : is a concept designed to ensure greater public participation under the Mid Day Meal Programme being followed in Gujarat. In order to bring in greater community participation, local communities are encouraged to celebrate important family events viz., birth of a child, success in exam, inauguration of new house, etc. by contributing to the mid day meal served in the local schools. It is voluntarily served by the community/family among school children in several forms like sweets and namkeen along with regular MDM, full meals, supplementary nutritive items like sprouted beans, contribution in kind such as cooking ware, utensils, dinner sets or glasses for drinking water. The concept has been adopted by different states with local nomenclatures like "Sampriti Bhojan" in Assam, "Dham" in Himachal Pradesh, "Sneh Bhojan" in Maharashtra, "Shalegagi Naavu Neevu" in Karnataka, "Anna Dhanam" in Puducherry, "Priti Bhoj" in Punjab and "Utsav Bhoj" in Rajasthan.

Evaluation of the Scheme : The MDM Scheme has many potential benefits: attracting children from disadvantaged sections (especially girls, Dalits and Adivasis) to school, improving regularity, nutritional benefits, socialisation benefits and benefits to women are some that have been highlighted.

Studies by economists show that some of these benefits have indeed been realised. The positive effect on enrollment of disadvantaged children (Dreze and Kingdon), on attendance (by Chakraborty, Jayaraman, Pande), on learning effort (by Booruah, Afridi and Somanathan), on improving nutritional inputs (Afridi), and on improving nutritional outcomes (by Singh, Dercon and Parker).

Caste based discrimination continues to occur in the serving of food, though the government seems unwilling to acknowledge this. Sukhdeo Thorat and Joel Lee found in their 2005 study that caste discrimination was occurring in conjunction with the Mid Day Meals programme.
Media reports also document the positive effect of the programme for women, especially working women and its popularity among parents, children and teachers alike. Media reports have also highlighted several implementation issues, including irregularity, corruption, hygiene, caste discrimination, etc. A few such incidents are listed below:
- In December 2005, Delhi police seized eight trucks laden with 2,760 sacks of rice meant for primary school children. The rice was being transported from Food Corporation of India godowns Bulandshahr district to North Delhi. The police stopped the trucks and investigators later discovered that the rice was being stolen by an NGO.
- In November 2006, the residents of Pembong village (30 km from Darjeeling) accused a group of teachers of embezzling midday meals. In a written complaint, the residents claimed that students at the primary school had not received their midday meal for the past year and a half.
- In December 2006, The Times of India reported that school staff were inflating attendance in order to obtain food grains.
- Twenty three children died in Dharma Sati village in Saran District on 16 July 2013 after eating pesticide-contaminated mid day meals. On 31 July 2013, 55 students at a government middle school fell ill at Kalyuga village in Jamui district after their midday meal provided by an NGO. On the same day, 95 students at Chamandi primary school in Arwal district were ill after their meal.
Criticism :  Despite the success of the program, child hunger as a problem persists in India. According to current statistics, 42.5% of the children under 5 are underweight. Some simple health measures such as using iodised salt and getting vaccinations are uncommon in India. 
"India is home to the world's largest food insecure population, with more than 500 million people who are hungry", India State Hunger Index (ISHI) said. Many children don't get enough to eat, which has far-reaching implications for the performance of the country as a whole. "Its rates of child malnutrition is higher than most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa," it noted. The 2009 Global Hunger Index ranked India at 65 out of 84 countries. More than 200 million went hungry in India that year, more than any other country in the world. The report states that "improving child nutrition is of utmost urgency in most Indian states"
Launched : Tamil Nadu is a pioneer in introducing mid day meal programmes in India to increase the number of kids coming to school. First, child mid day meal plan was introduced in the state of Tamil Nadu in India under then Chief Minister K Kamaraj in 1962–63. The Government of India initiated the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) on 15th August 1995.

          A novel school mid day meal scheme at the cost of just one anna per student per day was introduced as early as the 1920s.
       The uproar and the ongoing controversy stalking the breakfast scheme in the Chennai Corporation schools presently has, all the more, highlighted the pioneering role played by the Tamilnadu Government in introducing and implementing the noble mid-day meal scheme .  The Tamilnadu government has proved to be a role model for all states in this venture.
          On November 17, 1920, the Chennai Corporation Council approved and adopted the resolution for providing breakfast to the students of a Corporation School at Thousand Lights at a cost of one anna per student per day.
          During that period, there were only 165 students in that school.  Shri P.Theagaraya Chetty, the then President of the Corporation (now Mayor) and a luminary in the Justice Party emphasized the need for the scheme.  Since the boys at that school hailed from a very poor background, their motivation to attend school was greatly affected.  Consequently, the strength of the institution was also affected.  Hence, he came up with this novel idea to encourage students to attend school by providing them healthy breakfast.
          Subsequently, when four more schools were roped into the scheme, the combined strength improved by leaps and bounds from 811 in 1922-23 to 1,671 in 1924-25. 
          But, this noble scheme was not to be.  The British government denied expenditure from the Elementary Education Fund for provision of mid-day meals to students and the scheme was abruptly aborted on April 1, 1925. 
          However, the scheme again came into being two years later.  It stood tall to benefit around 1,000 poor students in 25 Government schools.
          In 1956, the then Chief Minister K.Kamaraj took initiative to extend the free meals scheme to poor children in all primiary schools across the State.  The 1956-57 Budget allocated enough funds for providing mid-day meals to school children from poor families for 200 days a year, initially covering 65,000 students in 1,300 feeding centres.
          The Government’s contribution was only one and a half annas per meal while the rest of the expenditure was borne by local people said a report published by The Hindu on December 7, 1982 when a controvery erupted as to who was the author of the noon meal scheme – Theagaraya Chetty or Kamaraj.  What is politics without controversies ?
     This controvery was triggered by none other than the then Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran.  It is indeed an irony that this program was improved upon and extended to children in the age group of 2-5 years in Anganwadis and those between 5-9 years in primary schools in rural areas in July 1982 by the same Chief Minister M.G.Ramachandran. 
          Subsequently, the scheme named after him was extended to cover urban areas also.  Since September 1984, the scheme has been expanded to cover students in the age group of 10-15 years too.
          M.Karunanidhi of the DMK Party, as Chief Minister for a short stint during the DMK Ministry (1989-91), introduced the provision of boiled eggs once every fortnight beginning from June 1989. 
This entire scheme was modified by Jayalalithaa in 2013 with the inclusion of variety meals accompanied by 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 and benefit nearly 48.57 lakh students every day.
A outlay of Rs.1,863.32 Crores has been sanctioned for the program in the Budget Estimates for 2020-21.  
All said and done, hats off to King Maker K.Kamaraj for his initiative in launching the Midday Meal Scheme in our State way back in 1962-63.  And accolades, applauds and appreciations for the ensuing State Governments who have ceaselessly got the Scheme going and going excellently till date.


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