Updated: September 30, 2021 12:15:24 pm
The mid-day meal scheme will now be known as PM POSHAN, with the Centre initiating a major political push pivoted around ‘child nutrition’, and announcing that around 24 lakh students receiving pre-primary education at government and government-aided schools will also be brought under the ambit of the scheme from next year.
Under the mid-day meal scheme, hot cooked food is provided currently to students from Classes 1 to 8 — around 11.80 crore children in all, in 11.20 lakh government and government-aided schools. Under PM Poshan Shakti Nirman or PM POSHAN scheme, 24 lakh more children in pre-primary classes, currently covered under the ICDS, will also be brought in. Last year, the government had opened pre-schools called Balvatikas attached to angandwadis.
Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said PM POSHAN, approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi Wednesday, will provide a new shape to the policy “to enhance the nutrition levels of schoolchildren”.
PM POSHAN has been launched for an initial period of five years (2021-22 to 2025-26). The Centre will bear Rs 54,061 crore of the total estimated cost of Rs 1.3 lakh crore, with the states paying Rs 31,733 crore (Rs 45,000 crore will be released by the Centre as subsidies for food grains).
“The National Education Policy (NEP) has also recommended that pre-school education should be formalised. This is a step towards that. Also, it will help prevent leakages and bring more transparency. We will become more hands on and nudge states to pay schools through the direct benefit transfer (DBT) mode,” Pradhan told reporters.
While the NEP also proposes breakfast in schools, the government has not taken any decision on that yet, he said.
PM POSHAN does not propose any hike in the honorarium of cooks and workers, though Pradhan said states are “free to do that”.
The West Bengal government accused the Centre of just changing the name of the mid-day meal scheme. State Education Minister Bratya Basu said, “Nothing new in the scheme, including the 60-40 split in the expenditure (between) Centre and the states! So why the new name — just bullying to add the name of Prime Minister.”
The Mission Director of the Axom (Assam) Siksha Abhiyan Mission, Roshni Aparanji Korati, said PM POSHAN would “complement” their ongoing efforts. “We are fully geared towards implementing the new scheme. In fact, we have already been doing some of the things which are being introduced,” Korati said.
More kids in fold
While seeking to build on the gains of the midday meal scheme, PM Poshan, cleared by the Cabinet on Wednesday, seeks to broaden its ambit by bringing under its fold around 24 lakh pre-schoolers and fund targeted interventions to improve nutrition levels of children.
Primary (1-5) and upper primary (6-8) schoolchildren are currently entitled to 100 grams and 150 grams of food grains per working day each, to ensure a minimum of 700 calories. The new scheme has a provision for supplementary nutrition for children in aspirational districts and those with high prevalence of anaemia. A senior government official said the revamped scheme essentially does away with the restriction on the part of the Centre to provide funds only for wheat, rice, pulses and vegetables. “Currently, if a state decides to add any component like milk or eggs to the menu, the Centre does not bear the additional cost. Now that restriction has been lifted,” the official said.
An official said they do not anticipate a problem. “Annually, of the budgeted allocation, up to 80% of the funds are spent. Currently, the unspent amount is surrendered, but going ahead, that amount will be used,” the official said.
Pradhan said that under PM POSHAN, nutri-gardens will be developed in schools to give children “firsthand experience with nature and gardening”. Such gardens have been already developed in three lakh schools, he said. “A social audit is being made mandatory in all the districts. To promote vocal for local, women self-help groups and farmer producer organisations will be encouraged to provide a fillip to locally grown traditional food items,” he said.
The scheme also plans “inspection” by students of colleges and universities for ground-level execution.
Pradhan also talked about the concept of ‘Tithi Bhojan’, introduced in 2018. “Children coming from affluent families will be urged to bring two lunch boxes so that nutritious food can be provided to needy kids. It will be completely voluntary,” he said. Communities would also be encouraged to provide the children food at festivals etc, while cooking festivals to encourage local cuisines are also envisaged.
Tamil Nadu is considered the pioneer in introducing mid-day meals in government schools. However, the scheme as it stands currently has gone through a series of changes since being introduced first in 1995 as a Centrally sponsored scheme across 2,408 blocks for students up to Class 5. In 2007, the UPA government had expanded it to Class 8.
While the Centre bears the entire cost of food grains and their transportation, as well as looks after the management, monitoring and evaluation under the scheme, components such as cooking costs, payments to cooks and workers are split in a 60:40 ratio with states.
Several studies over the years have shown the critical role played by midday meals in increasing enrolment and preventing dropouts.
According to official data available with The Indian Express, for PM POSHAN, the Centre’s share has been pegged at Rs 10,233 crore in 2020-21, Rs 10,706 crore in 2022-23, Rs 10,871 crore in 2023-24, Rs 11,039 crore in 2024-25, and Rs 11,211 crore in 2025-26. The corresponding share of the states has been estimated at Rs 5,974 crore in 2021-22, Rs 6,277 crore in 2022-23, Rs 6,383 crore in 2023-24, Rs 6,492 crore in 2024-25, and Rs 6,604 crore in 2025-26.
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