The national programme for mid-day meals was launched in order to reduce the number of drop-outs in schools and to compensate the calorie deficiency in children. There have, however, been reports of inaccuracies and ineffectiveness of the scheme in a number of states, including Haryana. Let us evaluate the scheme's successes and failures in the state.
Factors responsible for the success of mid-day meals include hygienic storage of food grains and raw food materials, cooking the food in sanitary conditions, and distributing the food systematically and without leaving out any child. Each of the factors is responsible for providing proper nutrition to the children of Haryana. However, such a promise has been found to be nothing but a farce. There have been several instances of food poisoning and deaths due to contaminated meals reported by petitioners in Haryana. So, where is the problem?
Reports have revealed that the Food Corporation of India (FCI), who is responsible for disbursing the raw food materials and grains, does not have a system for checking the quality of the grains. Along with this, the cooks hired to make the meals in schools and teachers who distribute the meals to children do not maintain hygiene. Experts believe that the meals also don't meet the nutritional standards required for growing children.
Apart from these, there are reports that show that teachers have problems in maintaining a balance between teaching and distributing food, since much time is spent in the mid-day meal distribution. The cooks are also facing serious issues. They were reported to be given salary for only ten months instead of twelve. Education department officials cited the reason that schools are closed during weekends and vacations, hence the less salary. The cooks, although, do need to make food during special events held during summer vacations, for which they were not paid.
All the issues mentioned here show deep-seated problems in the mid-day meal operation in Haryana. So, the question is, are mid-day meals really that helpful and brilliant as the state government prides itself? It does seem like a mere eyewash, in which a fake visual of happy Haryanvi village is conjured for the world.
In order to address the issues of mid-day meal scheme, the government, officials, workers, and agencies responsible for every government school in Haryana need to be accountable for their task. Monitoring the quantity and quality of food from the godowns to the plate of each student is critical for the success of healthy mid-day meal scheme. Participation of locals may also help in reducing the burden of teachers in food distribution. Cooks should be considered as an integral part of the mid-day meal operation and must be paid and maintained responsibly. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have in certain areas succeeded in managing the mid-day meal operations in some governmental schools. The Haryana government should work together with the NGOs, so that every school finds a systematic and efficient distribution of meals to students.
In conclusion, mid-day meals will result in a large number of enrollments in schools and help in spreading literacy and alleviating poverty in Haryana. An accountable, transparent, and honest administration is the key to the success of mid-day meals and eventually a healthier and happier Haryana.