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Maha: One Month Since Schools Reopened, Mid-Day Meal yet to be Resumed in Schools

Maharashtra reopened schools on January 21 after waning of the third wave. It was expected that the mid-day meal scheme would be immediately resumed. But, students continue to be deprived of meals in schools as the scheme is still not functional.

Since the graph of the third wave of COVID-19 started going down from January first week, the Maharashtra government allowed the opening of various institutions one by one. The last permission to enable the physical functioning of schools was finally given to primary schools in the state. The permission came on January 21, 2022. The state government allowed local bodies to take decisions as per the local situation. Many districts and municipalities were allowed to open schools within a week or ten days. But now it has come to notice that though schools are functional, the vital mid-day meal scheme in schools is still not functioning. The state government has not decided to start it again.

The State runs the mid-day meal scheme with the Central government jointly. The scheme aims to provide good nutrition to students. As per the decided norms, students from the first to the fifth standard get meals with 450 calories and 12 grams of proteins. From the sixth to the eighth standard, providing food with 700 calories and 20 grams of proteins is compulsory. Lakhs of students across schools take benefit from this scheme. But, it is found that though schools restarted from February 1 everywhere in Maharashtra, the scheme is yet to be resumed.

"To bring poor children to schools, to provide nutrition to poor children, this scheme was started. Children won't stop in schools if the mid-day meal is not started. This will affect the attendance of students. That is why the State government must immediately start the scheme," said Sharad Bhandarkar, general secretary of Navnirman Teaching and Non-teaching Staff Union.

The pandemic has badly hit poor children in schools. Schools were closed for almost two years. Multiple research and surveys across India have found that poor students have suffered from hunger during this time. In this backdrop, immediately starting the mid-day meal scheme is the need of the hour.

"We distributed grains and meals in some places when schools were closed. Now the process for the mid-day meal scheme is on, and after discussion with nodal officers, we will start it soon," said Vishal Solanki, Commissioner of Maharashtra’s Education Department.

The claim that the State government was providing grains or mid-day meals during the pandemic has already been rejected by social organisations working in the sector. Ulka Mahajan, a veteran social activist who has been working with the marginalised in Maharashtra, had published a hunger paper after the first wave of COVID-19. "We had found many children of daily wagers, poor farmers or street vendors across districts who had never received any food from government agencies. The scheme could have been implemented, but the grains or food has not reached the last children standing," said Ulka.

As we are in the middle of February, schools in Maharashtra will be open for a maximum of two months henceforth. The summer vacation generally starts from May, but as exams are over by April first week, students typically don't come to schools after that. So, the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme needs to be implemented urgently.

"You see, there is an increased scale of students missing from the school. One of the reasons for these dropouts is a suspension of the mid-day meal scheme. It will affect the children's health mental development and the effects will be there for a longer time. One who would be left behind would be from a poor class. This social aspect should have been taken into account before such a month-long delay in implementation of the scheme," said Bharati Sharma, who is a member of a labour organisation.

"Mainly children from minorities, dalits, tribals will be affected into it," she added.

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