A month after the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development sent a letter to all the health secretaries of all states to display better coordination in the execution of various nutritional and health schemes for children, Maharashtra is yet to appoint a nodal officer for the purpose. In fact, according to official sources, there is very little coordination between the health and the school education departments, despite repeated requests.
“The state is yet to appoint a nodal officer to converge school health programmes and the school education department. But we have formed a committee for the state review mission headed by me and will submit our report in November,” said Mahavir Mane, Director, Primary Education.
The August 22 letter from Rajarshi Bhattacharya, Secretary, School Education and Literacy, MHRD, says: “As per the data made available by the states/UTs in their Annual Work-Plan and Budget 2014-15 under the mid-day meal scheme, it is observed that coverage under both the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) and Weekly Iron Folic acid Supplementation (WIFS) is low against the enrolment figures of children in schools.”
The letter adds: “Ensure designation of a nodal officer for school health including Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK), Weekly Iron Folic acid Supplement (WIFS) coverage in the Department of School Education in the state. The designated officer should liaise regularly with the state health department for issuance of joint instructions, annual plan for coverage of all government schools in the state and to monitor the same/provide solutions to bottlenecks.”
Mane said though there was no nodal officer, monthly meetings were held between various departments for proper implementation of schemes for children.
The audit report, however, reveals another picture of the mid-day meal scheme. Pune and Latur are two worst performing districts even though all education directorates are in Pune, including the department looking after the mid-day meal and health schemes. Independent agencies will now be reviewing these two districts.
Another major problem, which was also raised in the annual meeting in February this year, is the irregular testing of food served to children. “Regular testing of food by labs is impossible because while there are about 1 lakh schools, the number of labs is limited. Secondly, the food is locally tasted by a teacher at the school. In case there is anything wrong, it is sent for lab tests,” said Mane.
Districts like Nanded and Nandurbar have high prevalence of anaemia among children, with more than half of its student population anaemic. The state still has 28.85 per cent boys and 22.64 per cent girls moderately malnourished.
A better coordination between the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, the mid-day meal scheme, issuance of joint instructions, timely preparation and monitoring of micro plans for health check-up of school children are some of the other instructions given in the letter.