New Delhi, Oct. 15: The human resource development ministry has sought the finance ministry’s approval to extend the midday-meal scheme to private schools in about 200 districts where Dalits, tribal people and minorities account for a majority of the population.
The scheme now covers around 10.44 crore children in 12.12 lakh government and aided primary and upper primary schools.
The HRD ministry’s proposal, if approved by the finance ministry and the cabinet, is expected to benefit an additional 1.25 crore children in 54,000 private schools in these 200 SC/ST and minority-dominated districts.
The Planning Commission has given its nod and the plan is being examined by the expenditure finance committee, which functions under the finance ministry.
Sources said the initiative was significant because the number of private schools has been increasing. According to NGO Centre for Civil Society there are around two lakh private schools in the country, and more and more parents in rural areas were sending their kids to these schools.
The cooked midday meal scheme — aimed at addressing classroom hunger, encouraging poor children to attend school and improving their nutritional status — is among the most popular and effective programmes of the government. The calorific value of a midday meal at primary and upper primary stages has been fixed at a minimum of 450 and 700 calories, respectively. The meal is served every day the school is open.
The Office of Supreme Court Commissioners, an apex court-appointed panel that reviewed eight social schemes including the MDM in nine states, had said the programme had a positive impact on enhancing school attendance.
The ministry is also exploring the idea of extending the meal scheme to children from economically weaker sections admitted in private schools under the Right To Education Act. However, some officials feel it might lead to isolation of underprivileged children in elite schools.
The expenditure finance committee has cleared a proposal from the HRD ministry to reimburse states the money they spend on the education of disadvantaged children studying in private schools.
The RTE Act says every private school has to reserve 25 per cent seats for poor children and that state governments have to reimburse their fees.