The plan to introduce breakfast as an extension of the Mid-Day Meal for students till grade VIII in government schools from the next academic session (2021-2022), could get delayed due to inadequate funds.
According to an Indian Express report, the Union Ministry of Education had estimated that it will cost about Rs 4,000 crore to the Centre, apart from states’ share, to introduce the free breakfast scheme for close to 12 crore primary and upper primary students in 2021-22. A government spokesperson told IE, “We were hoping to begin the project from April. However, this is set to be delayed by several months now.” The Hindu reported that the School Education Department has seen a budget cut of almost Rs.5,000 crore in 2020-2021.
The current expenditure on the Mid-Day Meal scheme is Rs. 11,000 crores for a total of 11.8 crore students across the country and the budgetary allocation for the department for the upcoming fiscal has been slashed by 8 percent, from Rs 59,845 crore in 2020-21 to Rs 54,873 crore in 2021-22, reproted The Wire.
Even with Rs 11,000 crore as allocated funds, Mid-Day meal schemes reportedly cost the government Rs. 12,900 crores last year. As schools were shut during the Covid-19 induced lockdown, The Wire reported that the midday meals scheme continued with modifications. Instead of serving meals at schools, the students were given dry ration or a cash allowance at their respective schools.
The National Education Policy, according to a HT report, had come up with this proposal, giving importance to children’s nutrition levels for better productivity levels. “Children are unable to learn optimally when they are undernourished or unwell. Hence, the nutrition and health (including mental health) of children will be addressed, through healthy meals and the introduction of well-trained social workers, counsellors, and community involvement into the schooling system. Furthermore, research shows that the morning hours after a nutritious breakfast can be particularly productive for the study of cognitively more demanding subjects and hence these hours may be leveraged by providing a simple but energizing breakfast in addition to mid-day meals”, the policy stated.
The ambitious policy had also recommended regular health check-ups and included groundnuts or chana mixed with jaggery and local fruits in the meals, as per some media sources. With the present financial crunch as alleged by the government, some officials have told The Hindu that the addition of breakfast in the mid-day meals will be revisited again at the end of 2021, depending on the “economic situation and the Centre’s revenue position”.