As many as 207 schools in the city have stopped serving midday meals to their students, as parents have found the food to be of poor quality. The issue came to light after the Ministry of Human Resource and Development questioned the state about why certain schools in Mumbai were not covered under the Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS). The MHRD is conducting a review of this scheme across India, and has found poor response to it in 12 districts of Maharashtra. Mumbai has, for the third consecutive year, topped the list of poorly performing districts.
Explaining the reasons for this, state Principal Secretary of School Education Nand Kumar said that parents in 207 schools in Mumbai had objected to the quality of food being served. “We found that many parents in these schools were unhappy with the quality of the meals, and preferred giving home-cooked food to their wards,” said an official from the state school education department.
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The poor standard and quality of food served under the scheme was also pointed out by the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) 2015 report. The report said that in Mumbai, around 97 per cent of the meal samples over the past five years had failed to meet standards.
The centrally sponsored midday meal scheme was officially launched on August 15, 1995 with an aim to increase enrollment and attendance in schools and provide nutritious food to the children.
The state’s data of number of schools and students covered under the midday meal scheme from 2014 -15 to 2016-17 reveals a dip. According to the data, in the academic year 2014-15, 97,62,850 students were covered under MDMS in 86,177 schools. In 2015-16, 93,94,423 students were covered in 86,660 schools and in 2016-17, 95,43,137 are covered in 86,867 schools.
A school education department official said, “There are different reasons for the poor performance of the scheme. In the drought-affected areas, students did not attend schools due to shortage of water. Many schools in various districts complained of not receiving the advance cooking cost.”
The state education department said there was a delay of over a month in disbursing the funds in Sangli, Satara, Sholapur and Pune, while in areas of Gondia, Gadchiroli,Chandrapur, Wardha and Nagpur, the delay extended to over three to four months. There were also issues of irregular payment of remuneration.
The CAG report had recommended that the state take urgent steps for direct transfer of funds to schools for the scheme’s expenditure, find out reasons for disruption in supply of meals and ensure consumption of packaged items well before expiry dates.
The districts that reportedly have the lowest coverage of children under MDMS include Mumbai, Pune, Latur, Akola, Washim, Hingoli, Wardha, Parbhani, Kolhapur, Raigad, Ahmednagar and Aurangabad in both Primary and upper primary schools.