Mid-day meal scheme in U.P. goes for a toss during the pandemic

It wasn’t until election time that those in power realised that our children depend on food from schools

By Rashi Mishra

Akbarpur: Two years of the pandemic have dealt a huge blow to the mid-day meal scheme in schools, affecting  children, especially those in their crucial growing years (6-13). At the time of going to the poll, Uttar Pradesh had 1.86 lakh malnourished children. 

During the lockdown, students in the primary classes (1-5) were supposed to receive a stipend of Rs. 685, and students in the upper primary classes (6-8), a stipend of Rs. 923. However, in many districts this was not implemented. 

The announcement was made only in May 2021 when the second wave of Covid-19 claimed  the lives of many people. 

Asha Devi, one of three midday meal cooks at the government school at Bhuganiyapur , says 100 grams of foodgrains was  to be delivered to the houses of every student  of the school. 

This scheme provides a wide variety of food for maximum nutrition. Different days are designated for different nutritional needs such as leafy vegetables, pulses, dalia, etc.  

Shashi Prabha, principal of the school at Bhuganiyapur, explains: “The allowance was supposed to be based on the mid-day meal card every student receives at the time of enrollment. However, we chose to directly distribute the food to ensure that all children get their due.”  

Local government officials did not make announcements or arrange anything during the initial lockdown. “It wasn’t until recently that those in power realised that our children depend on the food from schools. Even then, school officials distributed foodgrains to our houses just twice a month,” said Binita, mother of seven-year-old Kush who studies in first grade. 

Other parents too said that  except in a few instances, foodgrains were hardly distributed and allowances never reached the accounts. 

At Madarpur Tassaduk Ali, the school faculty are irregular, and the students and cooks are seldom seen. Some do not know such facilities exist. Most parents who are serious about their children’s education send them to either the school at Bhuganiyapur, which also offers upper primary, or the one in Akbarpur tehsil.

The state government never provided food grains or allowances to buy food for the children attending schools outside of Madarpur on a regular basis as promised.

Once school began in November 2021, students began receiving regular meals. Even though provisions for food supply existed during the first lockdown, attention at that time was primarily focused on panchayat elections in the state.