Opposition parties and rights activists on Sunday slammed the government for linking the school midday meal scheme to the Aadhaar card. They demanded withdrawal of the move, saying the order would deprive thousands of poor children. “This decision is against humanity, and against the country’s future…. This decision deprives children from the benefits of the midday meal scheme…. The government should not snatch food from the plates of children,” Congress spokesperson Bhatka Charan Das told an AICC briefing. He said the Supreme Court had ruled the Aadhaar card was not mandatory. “What is the government’s intention behind such a decision? Around 10 crore children do not have Aadhaar cards. The government should show some sensitivity,” he said.
The Human Resource Development Ministry recently issued a notification that told students and cook-cum-helpers attached to the midday meal scheme to get enrolled for Aadhaar. They have time till June 30. Ministry officials said this was for improving efficiency and transparency. The Trinamool Congress said it would raise the matter in Parliament. Its leader in the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien, on Sunday said he would give a notice for a discussion on the first day of the second phase of the Budget session on March 9.
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Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said in a statement that the Centre’s decision was “absurd” . “The decision is aimed at ensuring transparency and effectiveness. The noon meal is given to children studying in schools. To ensure transparency and efficiency, why is there a need for Aadhaar?” he asked. Activists associated with the Right to Food Campaign have issued a statement that said: “The right to food campaign strongly opposes the central government’s move to make Aadhaar compulsory for children under the midday meal scheme in government schools. This is nothing but an attempt to coerce people to enrol their children under Aadhaar.” It said numerous studies had shown that “India’s midday meal scheme has made an important contribution to higher school attendance, better child nutrition and more effective learning”.
Reetika Khera, an associate professor for economics at IIT Delhi, said: “We are concerned as in the midday meal scheme there is no role for Aadhaar. It is quite mindless in that sense. The notification is only about enrolment in the Aadhaar database….” She added: “Aadhaar was supposed to be voluntary, based on informed consent…. It is particularly serious that this is being done in the case of children as they will be subject to life-long tracking without an option to opt-out later.”
Lawyer and rights activist Colin Gonsalves said the government’s notification was an attempt to cut down spending in several welfare schemes. “They don’t want to spend money on the poor. After assuming charge, the PM slashed social spending on health and education by 20 per cent. National maternity scheme benefits have not been paid to beneficiaries for three years. In the midday meal scheme too they want to cut spending by 30 per cent. This move is in that direction,” he said.