Eight-year-old Aakiriti Suman goes to her school in Lucknow’s Chinhat block, Uttar Pradesh, everyday hoping to be served lunch under the Mid Day Meal Scheme. However, from 9.30 pm, when Aakiriti’s parents drop her at the school to work as agricultural labourers, till 1 pm, she is served no meal. Finally, the famished girl drinks water.
“Everyday, they say meals will be served from tomorrow—but tomorrow never arrives,” Aakiriti tells Newsclick. A few students bring lunchboxes, but she cannot afford one “due to lack of sufficient ration at home”. “Mid Day Meal cooks come to the school daily only to return when ration is not provided to them. The school also does not provide dress, shoes and books,” she adds.
“During the second wave of COVID-19, when the school was shut, we were supposed to get either ration or some amount in our bank accounts—but we received neither. The school reopened on September 1 but the students have been neither fed nor they received books,” says Ramesh, whose three children are enrolled at a government school in Barabanki, UP. “The school has not made arrangements for cooking food.”
Arunesh, who is enrolled at a primary school in Barabanki, was very excited when it was announced that schools would open after a gap of 18 months. “We survive on one meal per day as the school does not feed us. I was so excited to see my friends again and hoped to receive new books and nutritious food. Our teachers are at a loss of words to give us the reason. Many of my friends have stopped attending the school due to the non-availability of food,” he tells Newsclick.
Students of class one to eight in government and government-aided schools are entitled to free lunch expect on holidays under the scheme. But meals haven’t been served in the last 20 days after the schools reopened. The scheme came to standstill due to the non-availability of food grains, a teacher claimed.
“The situation is same across Uttar Pradesh. The Basic Shiksha Adhikari (basic education officer) allocated the fund for the Mid Day Meal Scheme but due to negligence of the kotedar (ration distributor), students are not being fed,” says Virendra Mishra, national spokesperson, Rashtriya Shaikshik Mahasangh, adding that the “key concern of parents sending their kids to school is to feed them as most of them belong to the financially weaker section”.
Meanwhile, several students of a government primary school in Varanasi’s Kakarmatta town dumped the lunch served by the school in the dustbin due after it smelt foul. Some of the students suspected that it was cooked last night.
Activists reminded the government of the importance of the MDM Scheme, especially during the pandemic. “Our team visited more than a dozen primary schools in Lucknow, Varanasi, Barabanki, Unnao and Kanpur and found that either midday meals are not served or their quality is poor. There is no data on the ration allocated to the schools during the 17-months period in which schools were closed during the pandemic,” Raman Singh, a Lucknow-based social activist told Newsclick. The schools “are not providing MDM as they are sure about the possibility of a third wave of COVID-19 during which they might be shut again. Therefore, they are reluctant to approach the authorities despite lack of resources”, he added.