Mid-Day Meal Scheme : An Analysis - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

Mid-Day Meal Scheme : An Analysis - Current Affair Article for UPSC, IAS, Civil Services and State PCS Examinations

Why in News?

A video revealed the discrepancies in implementation of mid-day meal recently, showing how one litre of milk was mixed in a bucketful of water so that it would suffice for the more than 80 children present that day in a school in rural Uttar Pradesh (U.P.). This was somewhat similar to the one reported from U.P. a couple of months ago. In an earlier incident, a video showed plain chapatis being served with salt.


The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NPNSPE) was launched as a centrally sponsored scheme on 15th August 1995, in 2,408 blocks in the country as a dry ration scheme with a view to increase enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving the nutritional levels among primary school students. Under this scheme, food grains at the rate of 3 kgs/month/ student was provided to all the children of Classes I-V in all government, local body and government-aided schools in all the States and Union Territories (UTs) subject to a minimum of 80% attendance of such children. Around 1997- 1998, NP-NSPE or the 'Mid-day Meal' (MDM) scheme was extended to all the blocks of the country.

The landmark judgment by the Hon. Supreme Court of India dated 28th November, 2001 mandated the provision of a cooked mid-day meal to every child in every government and government-assisted primary schools with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein per day for a minimum of 200 days. The Government of India had the responsibility of providing free supply of food grains at 100 grams per student per school day and subsidised transportation cost of foodgrains upto a maximum of Rs. 50 per quintal. There was no provision for cooking cost and many states including the likes of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat etc. provided for the same from their own budgets.

The following years showed significant improvements- inclusion of children studying in Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres under the purview of the 'Mid-day Meal Scheme (2002)'. Central Assistance for cooking cost, transport subsidy, etc. has been revised subsequently. Two decades have passed since the mid-day meal became a part of the daily routine in government schools nationwide. In this long passage of time, procedures have stabilised but accidents continue to occur. Funds from the Centre flow smoothly though procurement of food items faces hurdles of different kinds.

Achievements of the Mid-day Meal Scheme

The MDM Scheme shall be evaluated in terms of its achievements in alleviating classroom hunger, micronutrient supplementation of the primary school children, the intra-household flypaper effect which ensures that the nutritional benefits accruing to students on account of the MDM scheme 'sticks' to the children and is not neutralised by an intra-household reallocation of resources and the possible spill-over effects to younger siblings on account of sharing of dryrations which were made available to the households as part of the initial MDM scheme.

Eliminating Classroom Hunger

Hunger reduces children's ability to concentrate and retain what they have learnt at school and greater exposure to diseases is directly related to hunger. Many Indian school children reach school on an empty stomach in the morning due to poor economic and social backgrounds. In the absence of mid-day meal, children often find it hard to concentrate after a few hours and leave school post-noon.

It was in this light that the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) filed a public interest litigation by highlighting the paradox of widespread prevalence of chronic hunger and malnutrition when there was an excess of food supplies in the godowns of the Food Corporation of India which eventually stimulated the Hon. Supreme Court of India to promulgate an order which directed all state governments to provide cooked midday meals.

MDM scheme has substantial effect in reducing hunger at school and protein-energy malnutrition of the participant school children. The contribution of mid-day meals to food security and child nutrition is particularly crucial in tribal areas, where hunger is endemic and hence parental appreciation of mid-day meals was highest among tribal communities.

Nutritional Supplementation

MDM scheme is viewed as 'a nutritionist's dream' which helps to increase the regular daily intake of calories and proteins as well as integration with nutrient supplementation schemes which aim at improving intake of iron, iodine and other micronutrients which are quintessential to swift and steady growth of children. A combination of mass deworming with Vitamin A and iron supplementation can significantly increase children's nutrition.

MDM scheme provides an excellent platform for integration with complementary inputs like these owing to its extensive coverage and social intervention. Recognising the synergy between health and nutrition, school health programmes - deworming, nutrient supplementation, etc. should be integrated with the MDM scheme in more states, following Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, etc. to boost service delivery.

Spill-over Effects

Spill-over benefits accrued to non-targeted members of a family on when dry rations at the rate of 3 kgs per child/month were distributed in the early years of the MDM scheme. This was well above 1.67 kgs per child/ month provided to the targeted child only under the cooked meals scheme and provided additional incentives to poor parents to enroll students in a government primary school to receive the benefits on a regular basis. Providing nutrition bars and/or fortified biscuits in addition to regular mid-day meals would usher in spill-over effects.

Challenges and Concerns

An evaluation of the ambitious MDM scheme of the Government of India requires a detailed analysis of the ground realities and the various loopholes to be plugged if nutritious food, and not just something which has been cooked, is to reach the plate of poor primary students. The main concerns regarding the MDM scheme can be highlighted as:

Poor Implementation of the Scheme

Lack of proper storage facility for the food supplies required for the preparation of mid-day meals, poor implementation by the school authorities, negligence of private sector and non-government organisation (NGO) units in preparation of mid-day meals and substandard nutritive quality of the cooked mid-day meal have been major regarding the implementation of the scheme. This has led to some trageci incident like ‘Bihar Tragedy’ where 23 primary school children in the Gandamal school (Saran district, Bihar) died after consuming an adulterated mid-day meal served at the school premises on 16 July 2013.

The dietary balance was also poorly maintained in many schools across the country even in Delhi where samples regularly failed quality tests and laggard states like Bihar have often failed to ensure that the due share of recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for primary school children are met by the MDM scheme.

Mid-day Meal as a Credence Good

Food-products/ mid-day meals are also classified as credence goods, where quality of food in terms of nutrition and safety is not known to consumers and often to producers, even long after the consumption of the product. Thus, in the presence of imperfect and asymmetric information, market institutions are likely to not deliver efficient outcomes in the case of credence goods such as mid-day meal.

Thus, nutritional deficiencies in mid-day meal and carcinogenic effects of mild contaminations or adulteration of food grains and/or cooking oil would show up in the young population with a lag of at least a few years. Hence, the poor implementation of the MDM scheme in the so-called BIMARU states with poor emphasis on quality and safety standards run the risk of stunted, underweight and wasted children as against its primary aim of improving their nutritional levels.

Inefficient Utilisation and Poor Infrastructure

The annual statement of allocation and offtake of foodgrains under the MDM scheme throws light on consistent underutilisation of foodgrains with almost 4-5 lakh tonnes of rice and wheat being wasted every year.

Mid-day meals are loosely supervised and formal monitoring arrangements are sparse. While official guidelines call for different committees and officers to monitor the scheme periodically, checks are sporadic. This is in addition to the existence of poor drinking water facilities, lack of proper storage facilities and delays in the payment of cooks/helpers, inadequate availability of fuelwood and lunch plates.

Also, a cause of concern is the purchase of vegetables, cooking oil and other inputs by the school authorities. Lack of quality safeguards and tardy response to the 'Right to Food' concept has resulted in a meager allocation of funds per child and a correspondingly low quality of food inputs. Presence of toxins and hazardous chemicals like uric acid were observed in various samples of mid-day meals prepared in a sample school.

Corrupt Private Practices

Although the prospect of fortified wheat biscuits sound promising as a supplement to the MDM scheme, private entities have begun to prey on the MDM "market". Corrupt private sector practices may also take the form of centralised kitchens for mid-day meals for a large number of schools being contracted by a lone private entity, leading to monopoly and corrupt practices. Such dangers of invasion of private interests into school-feeding programmes and in the wake of such incidents, the MDM guidelines cautions schools against granting contracts to NGOs and other private entities.

What Needs to be Done?

With adequate resources and quality safeguards, mid-day meals can play a major role in improving school attendance, eliminating classroom hunger and fostering social equity. A few policy recommendations in the form of remedial measures to enhance the efficiency of the MDM scheme in improving nutritional levels may be summarised below:

Financial allocations for the MDM schemes need to be increased to help them achieve the full potential. Shoe string programmes like those in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh lose out on the vital opportunity of improving nutritional security at a very low cost due to misappropriation of finances, errors in estimation of beneficiaries etc.

A complete overhaul of mid-day infrastructure is necessary to improve public confidence in the same as well as to ensure access to safe and nutritious food to primary school children. Construction of kitchen sheds, appointment of cooks and/or helpers, provision for drinking water facilities, etc. need to be done on a swift basis to ensure good hygiene.

Varied and more nutritious lunch menu (fruits, milk, eggs, nutrition bars, etc.) needs to be introduced across all states and the MDM guidelines with recipes prepared by the chefs of Hotel Oberoi, New Delhi are a welcome step in this regard. This would improve the participation of targeted recipients and ensure that the meal equivalent of recommended dietary allowances is provided with enough calorific value. There is also an increased need to integrate health intervention programmes in schools such as deworming, Vitamin A, iron and iodine supplementation to boost health outcomes.

The monitoring and evaluation mechanisms need to be strengthened with mandatory tasting of cooked meals, regular lab testing of samples and regular meetings so as to ensure quality standards of the cooked midday meals. Regular monitoring of the offtake and utlisation of foodgrains from FCI, cash payments for the same and purchase of other inputs are essential.

Policy options such as interregional trade and research in productivity enhancement techniques, emergency food reserves and improved regional cooperation via Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), etc. may be considered. Better understanding of fair practices and efficient delivery systems can help in improving the profile of schoolfeeding programmes in South Asia with a combined effort to rehabilitate children in war-stricken areas with the World Food Programme.


Ever since it was made compulsory under a Supreme Court order, the MDM scheme has received considerable appreciation. It is the world’s biggest scheme of its kind. Its role in materialising the 'Right to Food' has been significant owing to its ability to diminish classroom hunger, reduce gender disparities and improve educational attainment.

However despite of these benefits the scheme is perceived as charity, not a civic responsibility. With the growing shift of the better-off parents to private schools, government schools are viewed as places for the poor. Therefore, the mid-day meal is associated — both in public perception and state policies — with poverty. Like other schemes that serve the poor, this scheme is also covered by norms that insist on the cheapest. So the need of the hour is to plug the loopholes of the scheme and provide a transparent and robust regulatory mechanism so that scheme could serve its envisaged purpose.

General Studies Paper- II

  • Topic: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Topic: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/ Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
  • Topic: Issues relating to poverty and hunger.

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