Amidst a polarised election season, a group of youth has reached out to potential parliamentarians to raise the issue of extending the mid-day meal scheme till class XII in Parliament and combat malnutrition.
Last year in August, the group of 50 youth had spearheaded a campaign, Freedom from Malnutrition, in the city’s bastis, following the deaths of three sisters aged eight, six and two, in Mandawali. As per official reports, they died due to negligence and starvation.
The group, along with members of various NGOs, had conducted a signature campaign across five districts — South, East, North East, North West and South West — in support of a set of demands, including adding eggs, bananas and milk in meals provided to Delhi’s anganwadis and government schools and setting up a state food commission to focus on child nutrition. The demands included extending mid-day meals to students of classes IX-XII as well. Currently, meals are provided to children across government-affiliated institutions up to class VIII. Around 50,200 signatures were collected, and the youth hope to raise the issue with state government functionaries after polls.
Seeing the Lok Sabha polls as an opportunity, the campaigners decided to ask candidates to raise the issue of extending the mid-day meal scheme, in addition to the existing conversation on extending the Right to Education Act beyond class VIII to class XII. The Congress has included the latter in its manifesto. So far, campaigners have broached the topic with AAP’s East Delhi candidate Atishi, Congress’s North East pick Sheila Dikshit and BJP’s South Delhi candidate Ramesh Bidhuri.
“Hundreds of children go hungry in schools everyday, because mid-day meals are provided only till class VIII… We have told leaders that the scheme must be extended across the country, like we have demanded for Delhi,” said volunteer Ravi Shanker Rai.
“We initially raised the demand at the Delhi-level, but realised that as it’s a centrally sponsored scheme, it needs to be taken up through a central route as well. For many children, it is their only chance at nutrition. They fall out of its purview when they move to class IX. The RTE and mid-day meal scheme are inter-related. When a child is hungry, education facilities don’t matter…,” said Arvind Singh, a nutrition activist associated with the campaign.