After a gap of over three-and-a-half months, the Gujarat government has resumed the distribution of mid-day meal to government primary school students through food safety allowance coupons.
The development comes after the Gujarat High Court took suo motu cognisance of a report in The Indian Express on December 18 about a survey by the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIM-A), which said 85 per cent students of government schools in Ahmedabad city have not received anything in lieu of midday meal scheme since March, when schools closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The state government’s commissionerate of Mid-Day Meal (MDM) had issued directives for the distribution of food safety allowance coupons and transfer of cooking cost to bank accounts.
While the state government has announced the distribution of foodgrains along with the cooking costs through coupons for the eighth lot for 49 days from September 1 till November 19, students of Ahmedabad city are yet to receive for the previous lot — for 21 days in August.
Nearly 1.20 lakh students enrolled in AMC schools are to receive dry ration — rice and wheat — in equal quantity, for the months of August, September, October and November to be distributed from December 23 till 31. The cooking cost against these days is to be transferred to the bank account of the students or parents.
After a letter by the Ahmedabad Food and Civil Supplies department on December 21, the Ahmedabad Municipal School Board issued a circular on December 22 for distribution of these coupons to its schools. Some of the fair price shops have already run out of stock.
“When I went to the ration shop, they claimed to have run out of stock and I was told to go the next day,” said a woman with two school-going children in Danilimda area.
Mid-day meal joint commissioner KN Chavda told The Indian Express, “There may be cases where distribution of previous lot is still pending… it would be covered in the existing one.”
On shortage of supply, the joint commissioner said, “We have ensured good supply at the shops. There might be a few cases where the stock is finished… these will be supplied at the earliest.”
The issue of quantifying the ration for each child has been cited by officials as one of the major reasons for this delay in distribution of MDM. As per the state government’s directives, students of Class I till V are entitled to 100 gm grain per day per child. For students of Class VI till VIII, it is 150 gm per child per day.
“The weight for a month, for instance 19 or 23 teaching days, comes out to be 1.9 kg or 2.3 kg respectively. Now this has to be equally divided between wheat and rice, which further creates weighing issues. There was a proposal for 23 days (one month), but it was shelved due to the same reason. Thus, it was decided this time to give ration in a significant quantity, which has to be achieved with more number of days,” one government official revealed.
The IIMA-UNICEF survey of 375 low income parents of 700 children residing in urban Ahmedabad between July to September 2020 revealed that among households enrolled in government schools (nearly 31 per cent of the total sample), around 85 per cent parents reported that they were not able to access anything in lieu of mid-day meals since March.
MDM joint commissioner KN Chavda told The Indian Express, “Over 50.30 students are enrolled for mid-day meals from Class 1 to Class 8 across the state. So far, the state has sanctioned 1,12,241 metric tonne of grains worth Rs 554 crore for distribution since March 16 till November.”
He added, “Normally, the mid-day meal scheme does not cover the summer vacations but this time due to Covid-19 situation, food security allowances were given for vacations too. Also cooking cost worth Rs 409 crore to be deposited in the bank accounts have also been sanctioned.”
For 49 days, each student will receive 4.9 kg grain (rice and wheat) in addition to Rs 243.53 transferred in bank accounts for the cooking cost for students of classes 1 to 5. For students from Class 6 to 8, each student is entitled for 7.350 kg grains and Rs 365 as cooking cost.
The study, conducted by Knowledge Management and innovations for Change (KMIC), an IIMA and UNICEF initiative launched in 2015 authored by IIMA’s faculty member Prof Ankur Sarin along with research associates to understand accessibility to remote learning and material and challenges faced by parents and children, revealed that about 15 per cent of parents received rice, wheat and/or pulses in lieu of mid-day meals.
However, it said that even in cases where ration items were provided, the provisions were often given/taken only once with no follow-ups. The average income of the sample was around Rs 1,990 per capita per month and more than 95 per cent of the households had less than Rs 4,400 monthly per capita income.