Data from the Mid-Day meal scheme for the last few years indicates that while the enrolment of children under the scheme increased till 2017-18, it has decreased in the last two years. The data also indicates that funds were not utilized fully in many states in 2018-19. Here is a review.
The National Programme of Mid-Day Meals (MDM) in School scheme is the Government of India’s (GoI) flagship school-based feeding programme. In this story, we look at the trends of enrolment under the scheme and overall fund utilisation by different states over the past few years. We will also look at the provisions provided under the scheme during the period of lockdown.
The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Mid-Day Meal Scheme) was launched as a centrally sponsored scheme on 15 August 1995. The scheme was intended to boost universalisation of primary education by increasing enrolment, retention and attendance simultaneously impacting the nutrition levels of children. The programme initially focussed on children at the primary stage (class I to V) in government, local body and government-aided schools. In October 2002, it was extended to cover children studying in the Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) Centres (now know n as Special Training Centres).
In December 2004, the Ministry of Human Resource Development issued revised guidelines for the Scheme. These guidelines laid emphasis on providing cooked meals with a minimum of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein content. There was a special focus on the enrolment, attendance, and retention of children belonging to disadvantaged sections. Nutritional support to students at the primary stage was also to be provided during summer vacations in drought-affected areas. Assistance for management, monitoring, and evaluation was also envisaged.
In 2008-09, the scheme was extended to children studying in upper primary classes. It was further extended in April 2008 to recognised Madarsas/Maktabs supported under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The Programme Approval Board (PAB) approves the number of students to be provided benefit under the MDM scheme every year based on state proposals.
Challenges faced in effective implementation
Despite the existence of the MDM scheme over two decades and initiatives of the government in making several improvements in the contents of the scheme over the years, the actual implementation of the scheme suffers from various shortcomings and lapses across the board, as the CAG’s Performance Audit of Mid-Day Meal Scheme (Report no.36 of 2015) highlights. The report contains significant results of the performance audit on the implementation of the MDM Scheme in 27 states (except Mizoram) and seven UTs, where the scheme was under operation.
The performance audit of the scheme raised many red flags such as over-reporting of enrolment figures, cases of leakages, financial indiscipline, poor quality of meals and inadequate monitoring etc., which still persist.
- The report published in 2015 notes that the enrolment of children in the MDM Scheme covered schools registered a consistent decline over the years from 14.69 crore children in 2009-10 to 13.87 crore children in 2013-14. This finding is still valid for the years after 2013-14, as we will highlight in the next section. The report also makes a point that while enrolment of children in the MDM scheme registered an overall decline, in contrast, the enrolment of children in private schools witnessed an increase of 38 percent from 4.02 crore to 5.53 crore during the same period indicating that MDM itself was not a sufficient condition to retain children in schools and that there is a growing section of society seeking better quality in education.
- The report emphasises that the mechanism in place for assimilating data on the number of children availing MDM scheme was seriously compromised. The percentage of the actual number of children availing MDM scheme as gathered from various sources was consistently lower than that furnished by the states to the Ministry for claiming the cost of food grains and cooking cost. Audit evidenced an institutionalised exaggeration of figures regarding students availing MDMs, irregular diversion or theft of food grains, submission of inflated transportation costs, fudging of data pertaining to the supply of food grains, all pointing to widespread leakages and defalcations, leading to losses and misappropriations in the scheme.
- A similar concern has been highlighted in a Policy Brief released by Accountability Initiative, Centre for Policy Research in 2021. The brief highlights that there are differences in the proportion of students provided MDM out of those approved as per the PAB. For instance, in 2018-19, while proportions exceeded approvals in West Bengal and Rajasthan, it was low in Haryana (85%) and Jharkhand (84%). Differences increase when compared with the number of students enrolled as per PAB. Thus, while over 102% of PAB-approved students were provided MDM in West Bengal, as a proportion of PAB enrolment it was 94 percent. Similarly, in Rajasthan, while as a proportion of approvals, the students provided MDM in 2018-19 stood at 101%, it decreased to 74% when compared with PAB enrolment figures. Differences were among the highest in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Thus, in 2018-19, while over 90% of approved students as per the PAB were provided MDM in both states, as a proportion of enrolment, the figures stood at 59% for Bihar and 57% for Uttar Pradesh.
Children covered under Mid-Day Meal scheme
The scheme was extended to cover all government, local body, government-aided primary and upper primary schools, and the Education Guarantee Scheme/Alternate Inclusive Education centres, including Madarsas and Maqtabs across the country. For the purpose of understanding the trends of enrolment under the scheme and fund utilisation, we have collated data furnished in various Lok Sabha answers.
The chart below gives a snapshot of the number of children covered under the scheme in different States/UTs over a span of 6 years.
- For the year 2019-20:
- Most states registered an overall decline in the number of children covered under the MDM scheme.
- Few states like Rajasthan, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Kerala, Assam, and others show a marginal increase in the number of children covered under the scheme.
- North-eastern states like Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur also register a decrease in the total number of children enrolled under the scheme.
- Most UTs register a relatively stable figure without much significant variation in the number of children registered under MDM, with a few exceptions. Puducherry shows a decline in enrolment under the scheme whereas Daman & Diu shows a steep increase.
- For the period of six years, from 2014-15 to 2019-20:
- States that registered an overall decrease in the number of children covered under the MDM scheme: Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Telangana, Sikkim, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, etc.
- States that registered an overall increase in the number of children covered under the MDM scheme: Delhi, Bihar, Kerala, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tripura, Jammu & Kashmir, etc.
- UTs have recorded relatively stable numbers throughout the six years, with the exception of Daman & Diu, Chandigarh, etc.
Fund Utilised under Mid-Day Meal Scheme
To understand the utilisation of funds under the scheme, we look at the number of funds released/sanctioned vis-à-vis the expenditure under the scheme. A State/UT-wise snapshot of the percentage of funds utilised under the scheme over the past few years is presented below. The utilization in a particular year could be more than 100% since the unspent balance from the previous financial year is spent in that financial year.
- For the year 2018-19:
- A significant number of states/UTs under-utilised their allotted budget for the year, with the lowest being D&N Haveli at 60.32%, A&N Islands at 64.38%, Nagaland, at 77.17%, Jammu & Kashmir at 80.62%, Haryana at 84.89%, and others.
- About thirteen states utilised less than 90% of the allotted fund.
- Thirteen states/UTs i.e., Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Delhi, Orissa, Punjab, and others utilised more than 95% of the allotted budget for the year.
- Eight states i.e., Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Karnataka, Telangana, and West Bengal slightly overspent with respect to the allotted budget for the year, with the maximum being West Bengal at 110.96% fund utilisation.
- For the period of five years, from 2014-15 to 2018-19:
- Fund utilisation in the previous years, except 2018-19, has been relatively better. In the other words, the utilisation of funds under the MDM scheme has declined.
- In the year 2017-18, only four states/UTs (Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu, Kerala, Manipur) utilised less than 90% of the allotted funds.
- In the year 2016-17, about nine states/UTs (Rajasthan, Daman & Diu, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, Puducherry, Chandigarh, J&K) utilised less than 90% of the allotted funds.
- In the year 2015-16, only four states/UTs (A&N Islands, Lakshadweep, Maharashtra, Delhi) utilised less than 90% of the allotted funds.
- In the year 2014-15, only four states/UTs (Manipur, Daman & Diu, Lakshadweep, Chandigarh) utilised less than 90% of the allotted funds.
Mid-Day Meal Scheme during Lockdown
During the COVID-19 lockdown, the State Government and UT Administrations were to provide Food Security Allowance (FSA) comprising of food grains, pulses, oil, etc (equivalent to cooking cost) to all eligible children till such time their schools are closed due to aforesaid pandemic. The ad-hoc grant released, and food grains already allocated for the MDM scheme were to be utilized for this purpose.
An answer from the Lok Sabha, from September 2020, highlighted the State-wise number of children provided Food Security Allowance (FSA) during March-August 2020.
If we compare these figures with the number of children enrolled under the scheme in 2019-20, we can observe the following:
- For most of the states, there is not much difference between the number of children enrolled under the MDM scheme in 2019-20 and the number of children provided with provided Food Security Allowance (FSA) during March-August 2020.
- However, for a few states/UTs like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, and others, there is a significant difference of a few thousand children who are enrolled under the MDM scheme as per the 2019-20 estimates but did not receive the Food Security Allowance (FSA) during March-August 2020.
- In Telangana, the state government reported that the government is providing food kits of 12 kg rice per person and Rs. 1500 per family to BPL families and hence no numbers were mentioned.
Featured Image: Mid-Day Meal Scheme