In his address to the nation announcing the extension of the lockdown on April 14, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had acknowledged that the poor are facing a food crisis.
Assuring provision of medicines, rations and essential items, he had appealed to the people to take care of the poor families and fulfil their food requirements.
However, even BJP-led state governments do not seem to be complying with Modi’s assurances. In Uttarakhand, for instance, the government led by Trivendra Singh Rawat has not provided food under the mid-day meal scheme to around 1.38 lakh children during the last two months amidst the lockdown and the health crisis.
In other words, one out of five children in the state have not benefitted from the mid-day meal scheme during this period.
Documents accessed by The Wire under RTI show that the Uttarakhand government did not provide food to around 1.4 lakh children under the mid-day meal scheme during April and May.
In addition, the state government provided rations to children only on 48 out of 66 working days between March 13 to May 17, 2020.
In a letter issued to all state governments and Union Territories on March 20, 2020, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had asked to ensure that students either get their meals or a commensurate food security allowance even as schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 threat.
In the letter, R.C. Meena, Joint Secretary in the HRD ministry, stated that cooked food be provided under the mid-day meal scheme to students in government and aided schools as well as government aided special training centres, madrasas and maktabs under Samagra Shiksha scheme.
Under Section 9 of the 2015 mid-day meal scheme, if the mid-day meal is not provided in school on any school day due to nonavailability of food grains, cooking cost, fuel or absence of cook-cum-helper or any other reason, the state government shall pay food security allowance which includes the cost of quantity of food grains as per entitlement of the child and cooking cost prevailing in the state.
In a letter addressed to the scheme’s director at the MHRD, G. Vijay Bhaskar, Uttarakhand’s Additional State Project director Dr. Mukul Kumar Sati summed the steps taken by the state government.
According to the letter dated May 15, 2020, there are 689,437 students in 17,045 government schools across Uttarakhand. Out of these, 4,05,009 are in primary schools while 2,84,428 are upper primary level schools.
However, only 5,51,550 students received food security allowance under MDM scheme during April.
As such, 1,37,887 students in the state received neither cooked meal nor food security allowance during the month. It means one out of five children in the state did not benefit from the mid-day meal scheme during the lockdown period.
The situation was no different in May as approximately 20 percent children could not avail the benefits of the mid-day meal scheme during the month. According to documents accessed by The Wire, only 551,550 out of 689,437 students in Uttarakhand received food security allowance this month.
In March, however, all 689,437 students in 17,045 schools had benefitted from the mid-day meal scheme.
Interestingly, the current HRD minister Ramesh Pokhariyal hails from Uttarakhand and leads the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme.
The documents also reveal that food was provided to students on 14 days in March, 21 days in April and 13 days in May. In total, food security was provided only on 48 out of 66 school days during the three months.
The Centre’s mid-day meal scheme guidelines aim to provide 100 grams of food grains per child per school day at primary and 150 grams per child per school day at upper primary level.
Additionally, as per the new norms that have been effective since April 1, the cooking cost per child per school day has been increased to Rs 4.97 and Rs 7.45 at primary and upper primary level respectively. It includes the procurement of pulses, vegetables, oil, spices and fuel.
Uttarakhand’s Haridwar district saw the maximum number of children were not provided food under mid-day meal scheme. According to state government documents, there are 1,53,006 students in 1,073 schools in the district. Out of these, only 1,22,405 students got meals under the scheme.
In April and May, a total of 30,601 children did not receive food under the scheme in the district.
After Haridwar, Uddham Singh Nagar district comes next with 22,596 children in 1,276 schools not getting the benefit of the mid-day meal scheme. Only 90,385 children of the total 1,12,982 received food security allowance here.
Similarly, 14,659 children in 1,390 schools in chief minister Rawat’s assembly constituency of Dehradun and 11,940 children in 1,397 schools in Nainital did not receive food security allowance under the mid-day meal scheme.
In Almora, there are 41,234 students in 1,762 schools but only 32,987 students were paid food and cooking cost in April and May during the lockdown, which means 8,246 children did not receive the allowance.
Likewise, a total of 20,567 students are enrolled in 791 schools across Bageswar district, out of whom 4,113 students were not provided food during the two-month long lockdown under the MDM scheme.
The number of students who were not provided mid-day meals are 6,724 in 1356 schools of Chamoli district, 4,327 in 682 schools of Champawat district, 8,133 in Garhwal, and 9,964 in 1905 schools of Tehri Garhwal.
In a meeting with state education ministers on April 28, 2020, HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said that mid-day meals or food security allowance will be provided to students even during the summer vacations in schools in view of the coronavirus pandemic for children to get adequate and nutritious food to develop immunity.
The schools in Uttarakhand will remain closed between May 27 and June 30 for summer vacations. During this period, the government has decided to provided mid-day meals on 30 out of 35 working days.
In this regard, the state government has written a letter dated May 5 asking the Centre to allocate fund and food grains. The Uttarakhand government has sought 2494.95 tonnes of foodgrains from the MHRD, Rs 12.39 crore for cooking expenses and Rs 58.60 lakh conveyance charges for running the mid-day meal scheme during the vacation period.
The Wire has sent a list of questions to the State Project Director and Secretary, the department of education and joint director of mid-day meal scheme in Uttarakhand. The story will be updated as and when their responses are received.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.