Centre renames Mid Day Meal Scheme as 'PM Poshan Scheme'
The Narendra Modi government on Wednesday decided to rename the school Mid Day Meal Scheme as “PM Poshan Scheme”, shocking public policy observers who suspected an attempt by the Prime Minister to claim credit for an old programme towards which his administration had adopted a miserly attitude.
“Today, the CCEA (cabinet committee on economic affairs) cleared the PM POSHAN Scheme for providing one hot cooked meal in government and government-aided schools from 2021-22 to 2025-26,” said a release from the government’s publicity arm, the Press Information Bureau (PIB).
“It’s mind-boggling to see the Prime Minister trying to take credit for a scheme he had undermined with massive budget cuts soon after he came to power in 2014,” economist Jean Dreze said. “To this day, the midday meal budget is much lower in real terms than it was seven years ago.”
In 2014-15, Modi’s first year in power, the money released for the midday meal scheme was Rs 10,527 crore, down from the previous year’s Rs 10,927 crore.
Over the next five years, the money released remained between Rs 9,096 crore and Rs 9,630 crore.
In 2020-21, the government had to release Rs 12,883 crore with the pandemic-induced school closure forcing dry rations and money to be sent to families of all students covered under the scheme — unlike in the earlier years when not all students would have had the meal on all schooldays. The 2021-22 budget proposal for the scheme is Rs 11,500 crore.
Nearly 11.8 crore students at 11.2 lakh schools now benefit from the scheme, which seeks to provide a nutritious meal to every child from Class I to VIII at government and government-aided schools on every day classes or exams are held. The expenses are split 60:40 between the Centre and the states.
Ashok Rao, a social activist associated with the NGO Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute which supplies food to Anganwadi centres in Delhi, too questioned the name change.
“This is a historic programme that was started by the Madras Municipal Corporation in 1925 for disadvantaged children who were not going to school. It was gradually expanded,” Rao said.
Over the decades, several states individually adopted the scheme. In 1995, the P.V. Narasimha Rao government at the Centre adopted it nationally, naming it the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education and covering 2,400 of the country’s about 6,000 blocks.
“In 2001, the Supreme Court directed all the state governments to provide the midday meal to every child and the MDM Scheme was started. The government should explain the purpose of the name change now,” Ashok Rao said.
Wednesday’s media release said the scheme would be extended to children enrolled in the pre-primary sections or Bal Vatikas of government and government-aided primary schools. It did not say what the number of the additional beneficiaries would be.
Preschool children are enrolled at Anganwadi centres and provided nutritional support under the Integrated Child Development Services. Some government primary schools in a few states have pre-primary classes, an education ministry official said, without giving figures.
The PIB release said, without elaborating: “Special provision is made for providing supplementary nutrition items to children in aspirational districts and districts with high prevalence of anaemia.”
An email sent to the education ministry seeking its comments on the concerns expressed by researchers and activists had evoked no reply till Wednesday night.
Rao said that about 80 per cent of the schools cooked the midday meals at their kitchens before Covid struck, while centralised kitchens in towns and cities run by NGOs prepared and delivered the meal at about 20 per cent schools.
He said the government needed to immediately stop the centralised kitchens, for preparation of the meals at the schools increased local involvement and awareness.
“The purpose of the MDM Scheme is to provide nutritional support to the children and create awareness about the importance of nutrition. Its management should be given to local communities and not centralised kitchens,” Rao said.
The Congress accuses the Modi government of renaming many of the UPA’s schemes with minor changes, from the Basic Savings Bank Deposit Account (now Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana) and the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (now Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) to the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (now Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana) and the National Manufacturing Policy (Make In India).