From the next academic session, Karnataka is likely to become the 13th state to provide eggs under the midday meal scheme, which is among the largest initiatives in the world to enhance nutrition levels of school-going children through hot cooked meals.
The proposal, which faces opposition and awaits the Karnataka government’s final stamp of approval, comes on the back of successive surveys pointing out high prevalence of malnutrition, anemia and low immunity among children in many parts of the state, where the National Family Health Survey-V found 35% children under five stunted, and around 20% wasted.
What is the history of the scheme?
The current version of the programme, renamed PM Poshan Shakti Nirman or PM Poshan in 2021, traces its roots to 1995; it was launched as a centrally sponsored scheme on August 15 that year across 2,408 blocks for students up to Class 5. In 2007, the UPA government expanded it to Class 8.
However, the first initiative to provide meals to children had been taken by the erstwhile Madras Municipal Corporation around 1920. In post-Independence India, Tamil Nadu was again the pioneer, with Chief Minister K Kamaraj rolling out a school feeding scheme in 1956. Kerala had a school lunch scheme run by a humanitarian agency from 1961. The state government officially took over the initiative on December 1, 1984, making Kerala the second state in the country to have a school lunch programme. Over the next few years, many other states launched their own versions of the scheme, and finally in 1995, the Centre stepped in.
What is the scale of the scheme today?
The scheme covers 11.80 crore children across Classes 1 to 8 (age group 6 to 14) in11.20 lakh government and government-aided schools and those run by local bodies such as the municipal corporations in Delhi under the provisions of the National Food Security Act, 2013 (NFSA). In the Budget for 2022-23, the Centre has earmarked Rs 10,233 crore for the scheme, while the states are expected to spend Rs 6,277 crore. It is not just a scheme, but a legal entitlement of all school-going children in primary and upper primary classes, through the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling in People’s Union of Civil Liberties vs Union of India and Others (2001).
What is usually on the menu?
The menu varies from one state or Union Territory to another. But the authorities need to ensure that the nutritional component of the meal made up of rice, pulses, vegetables, oil and fat provide at least 450 calories and 12 gm protein to children in primary grades. For upper primary children, the requirements are 700 calories and 20 gm protein. The variations are in the cases of additional items such as milk, eggs, chikki, or fruits that the states provide as supplementary nutrition, the expenses for which are borne by the state government.
For instance, eggs, and bananas to vegetarians, are currently provided only by 13 states and three UTs. Tamil Nadu provides eggs on all school working days; Andhra Pradesh, at least five days a week; Telangana and Andaman and Nicobar Islands, thrice a week; Jharkhand, Odisha, Tripura and Puducherry, twice a week; Bihar, Kerala, Mizoram, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Ladakh and Assam, once every week; and Sikkim, once a month, according to government response in Parliament and annual work plan and budget documents of the scheme.
States and UTs that provide milk include Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Ladakh and Puducherry. Among other food items, West Bengal provides cheese and mushroom on a limited scale, while Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra provide chikki. In Lakshadweep, chicken is provided as well.
Why are eggs part of the menu in so few states and UTs?
Some states, such as Arunachal Pradesh, find it costly. But dietary choices are an intensely contested area in India due to caste rigidities, religious conservatism and regional differences. Thus, the debate becomes political too. As a result, despite successive scientific studies, including those commissioned by state governments, showing the benefits of giving children eggs, many states have been reluctant about adding eggs to the school lunch menu.
For example, Chhattisgarh, which found a low quantity of protein in 30-35% of the samples from meals it tested, decided to overcome the problem by giving eggs two days a week but ran into political opposition. In Madhya Pradesh, the Congress government’s decision to add eggs to the menu of anganwadis was overturned by the BJP government in 2020. In Karnataka, proposals to add eggs have been fiercely resisted in the past by Lingayat and Jain seers.
But many states have tackled such objections by making fruits available as an alternative to eggs. Tamil Nadu, in fact, puts eggs on the plate of children in various combinations: pepper egg, onion tomato masala egg, rice and pepper egg on various days of the week.
Do the Centre and states run the scheme jointly?
Under the rules, the allocation of Rs 4.97 per child per day (primary classes) and Rs 7.45 (upper primary) are shared in 60:40 ratio with states and UTs with a legislature, and 90:10 with the Northeastern states, Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, while the Centre bears 100% of the costs in UTs without legislature.
But the states and UTs that supplement the meals with additional items such as milk and eggs contribute more. Components such as payments to cooks and workers are also split in the same ratio between the Centre and states. However, the Centre bears the entire cost of foodgrains and their transportation, and also handles the expenditure on management, monitoring and evaluation of the scheme.
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