No mid day meals, still

Karnataka Law Top Story

Karnataka High Court in response to a PIL had asked the government to restart the scheme.

Karnataka government has not restarted the mid day meal scheme, since the lockdown in March last year. The officials said that, they have instead given dry ration to the children for the first phase of the school year.

Prem Kumari, Principal at government primary school in Devagere said that, “The mid day meals haven’t restarted yet and the children are given ration on a monthly basis.”

Suma, a senior teacher at the Government High School, K Gollahalli said that, “The mid day meals were stopped due to the pandemic and the children were being given ration, following a three month plan.” The ration included food grains, oil and salt. Along with the ration, cooking cost for the month of May and June was also given.

Children run to schools while schools are running without mid day meals.

T. Narayana Gowda, Joint Director, Mid Day Meal Scheme said that, “The decision regarding restarting of the mid day meals have to be taken by a technical committee.” He explained that the school year consisting of 10 months and equating to 240 days, has been divided into five phases, starting from July. The children have been given ration for the first phase. Cooking cost of Rs. 248 for students of classes first to fifth and Rs. 372 for higher classes was also given. This includes the cost of LPG cylinder, vegetables and other items.

Venkatesh living in K. Gollahalli, whose daughter studies at the nearby government school said that they got the ration and the cooking cost, “Eight kg. rice and two kg. maize was given by the school for the previous two months at once and now the ration would be given for the next month.”

Dr. Kritika Sharma, a resident pediatric doctor at Delhi University felt that though dry ration is not the best option but due to the closure of schools it is a good alternative. The absence of mid day meals, she said, “will obviously have a bad effect on children’s health.” She added, “They were sending the allowances amounting to mid day meal’s cost to the children’s accounts but that also wouldn’t really help as money might be spent at other places.”

Divya, Quality Inspector at the head office of Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies Corporation Ltd. (KFCSC) said that, “The scheme benefitted 51,83,195 children in government and government aided schools across the state.” The centre-funded scheme was for classes first to fifth, later it was extended to include classes sixth to eighth. Eventually, the state government incorporated classes ninth and tenth as well. She added that they are only responsible for the procurement and transfer of food grains. Earlier they used to send food grains to the schools on a monthly basis but currently they are following a three-month plan because food is not being cooked at the schools. She also said that they had not received any orders to restart mid day meals yet.

Dr. Arpit Gupta highlighted the importance of proper nutrition for growth and development of children in a developing country like India. He said that, “Nutrient deficiency amongst children could lead to serious diseases like Protein Energy Malnutrition (Kwashiorkor and Marasmus), childhood blindness due to vitamin A deficiency, rickets due to Vitamin D deficiency and many more.” The important thing to be noted, he said is that, “All these ailments are preventable if proper basic care and nutrition are provided to children.”

The Karnataka High Court while addressing a public interest litigation (PIL) had asked the government to make a decision on restarting the mid day meals by April 15. The PIL, ‘Radha M & Ors. v. State of Karnataka & Ors.’ filed on Feb., 3, 2021 challenged the closure of schools and the absence of hot-cooked, midday meals in both schools and anganwadis. It sought to resume these with necessary precautions in place amid the pandemic. It was stated that their absence was a hindrance to right to education and nutrition of children. After the PIL was filed the state government in a status report said that instead of midday meals, only take home ration will be given to the children. The high court after hearing the matter said that, “midday meal is a necessary concomitant of the fundamental right under Article 21A” and asked the government to resume it.

If state government is not following directions of high court, Anjali Sheoran a lawyer, practicing at Punjab and Haryana High Court added that, “High Court has power to take suo motu action against the government for contempt of its order. It can also make the officials, whose affidavits are filed with status report or reply filed by state government, personally liable to comply with the order.”