The Prime Minister’s Office, it is learnt, has asked the Railways to chalk out a plan for allowing its base kitchens across the nation to cook mid-day meal for millions of school children under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
It has come to light that the mega-kitchens, with necessary infrastructure to prepare a variety of food items on a mass scale everyday, might actually be free to be used during a certain period in a day for the celebrated scheme for which Rs 13,215 crore was allocated in the Budget.
‘Midday Meal’ is the world’s largest food programme reaching out to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools across the country.
The idea of linking Railways kitchens to the mid-day meal scheme perceived to have originated “at the very top” of the government, notably the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministries of Railways and Human Resource Development have started to explore its feasibility, sources said. The first meeting between the two ministries was being planned.
Between the zonal railways, Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation and the private caterers who provide food on trains, there are over 100 kitchens.
To implement this idea, a time slot has to be identified in each kitchen when the infrastructure would be available for non-railway cooking. Railways may be asked to bill the HRD ministry directly for the services.
The only hitch would be the food cooked in Railways kitchens is costlier than mid-day meals for school students. Between shifts of cooking for trains, the kitchens also might not have much time and resources available to manage the other cooking assignment.
As per the latest contract condition, meals would not be cooked inside pantry cars and pre-cooked food will be served on trains. In the Rail Budget, the government has also allowed pre-cooked meals from reputed brands to be served on the wheels. To implement the decision, the Railways is planning to gradually build around 250 base kitchens across India adhering to various quality assurance standards.