Nutrition only in theory, MCD students are anaemic

[Millennium Post Investigation]
Mid-Day Meal Scam: Part- III
Read Part-I, Part-II, Part-IV, Part-V, Part-VI & Part-VII

Two of the main reasons for starting the mid-day meal scheme in the country was to bring down the number of anemic students at primary level and increase their attendance in schools. But, almost a decade after the scheme was launched in the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) schools, many questions remain unanswered on both these counts. While corruption is one of the reasons why the designated nutritional value does not reach the student’s plate, policy confusion both at the level of the centre and state governments and civic bodies is a culprit. 

A survey among students of the primary MCD schools – whose report was released in February 2012 and which was conducted jointly by the health department of the MCD and private hospitals in the city –  revealed that around 70 per cent of children in these schools are anemic. Ironically, the 2003 data showed the same figure when the mid-day meal scheme was started in these school.

The MCD records show that the students’ attendance in its schools in 2008-09 was 82.18 per cent, which came down to 67 per cent in 2009-10 and remained stagnant below 70 per cent thereafter. Thus, two main objectives of this flagship programme have not been realised in MCD schools.

According to an approach paper of the School Health Programme, 2006, of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which is the funding and monitoring agency for mid-day meals in the country, one of the main objectives of this scheme is to provide nutritional support to students to contain widespread anemia in India. But, as the figures show, this objective has not been met in the last decade.

According to a survey published in the Indian Journal of Paediatrics in June 2003, around 60 to 90 per cent of primary schools students in the age group of 6-11 years were found suffering from various stages of anemia.

But, a decade later, when the MCD, with the help of some private hospitals, conducted a study on the same issue, it found about 70 per cent students in its primary schools anemic. As part of its Chacha Nehru Sehat Yojna, medical teams of the civic body carried out hemoglobin tests among students of these schools. The survey, in which 26,500 children of primary schools were examined, was made public in February 2012 and showed that about half of them suffered from other diseases as well.

The approach paper contains a section ‘How MDM helps in reducing Anaemia’, which says, ‘It will be accepted that vegetables are a vital part of a balanced diet. They are good sources of a range of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fibre and they play an important role in preventing and controlling a micronutrient deficiencies. As per the MDM guidelines, green leafy vagetables should be added in the Mid Day Meal menu, so that the children should get the nutritional benefits and one portion of the iron of the day can be fulfilled.’  

It is surprising that out of six combinations served to students for mid-day meals – rice and rajma; rice and chole; rice and dal; puri and aloo sabzi; puri and chole; and suji ka halwa and boiled chana – none contains leafy vegetables. Thus, these children are deprived of what the government had promised them in writing. As per the menu approved by the Programme Approval Board, rajma, dal, sambar and chole must have mashed vegetables as gravy, but it has no mention in the menu prescribed by the MCD and offered by the NGOs which prepare these meals or schools board. Even teachers of primary schools are not aware the mandatory vegetable content in the dish, which leads them to okay watery curry of potato, rajma, chole or dal in the meals.

In addition to this, the students do not get even half the nutrition that was conceptualised and promised by the government, for which crores of rupees of public money is allocated every year to the state governments and civic bodies. According to the nutritional status prescribed by the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Eduction, 2006 – under which the central government releases the fund – in most cases,  a child should get about 12 to 13 grams protein, about 480 calories and 50 grams of vegetables, including leafy vegetables, in one mid-day meal. But – as we have argued in the earlier parts of this series of reports – the students are given only half of the prescribed quantity of grains and no green vegetables, taking the nutritional value to to below half of the prescribed limit.

What causes further damage to the nutritional health of students in these schools is the nature of contract the MCD has entered into with these NGOs and a policy difference with the centre. The centre prescribes that Rs 3.11 that the government issues as conversion charge for per student per meal should go into the plate of each student and not towards meeting the salary requirement of NGOs.

But, there is no separate budget prescribed for cooks and helpers for cooking and dispensing food to students. The MCD and the Delhi government have demanded this money from the centre. They asked for a total of Rs 14.05 crore from the centre for 18,740 cooks-cum-helpers for the MCD as well as Delhi government schools for 2011-12. But, the centre argued that it would issue Rs 1,000 per month for this purpose only if these schools set up kitchens in schools rather than outsourcing cooking to a third party.

In the latter case, the centre wants the civic body and the state government to pick half the cost, which, in turn, asked the NGOs to pick the tab. The NGOs have turned down this suggestion. Since, no kitchens are set up in the MCD schools, the NGOs eat into the conversion charge, thus affecting the nutritional value of each meal.
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