New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government Wednesday announced a revamp of its midday meal scheme with some structural changes. To be called ‘PM Poshan’ scheme from now on, it will focus more on a child’s nutritional levels rather than just providing a meal.
When the scheme was first started in 1995, the midday meal was meant to ensure that children in government schools, especially those unable to get food at home, had at least one meal a day. It also became an initiative to improve enrolment in schools. The scheme is now being revamped to expand its ambit.
The PM Poshan scheme was approved by the Cabinet Wednesday, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan announced.
So far, the scheme covered 11.80 crore beneficiaries (students) in 11.20 lakh schools across the country. Starting this year, it will cover an extra 24 lakh beneficiaries in the age group of 5-6 years who will now be a part of the formal school system, through Balvatika. Balvatika is the pre-school that was started in government schools last year to include children aged younger than six years in the formal education system.
PM Poshan has been launched for an initial period of five years (2021-22 to 2025-26) with a budget of Rs 1,30,794.90 crore. This includes Rs 54,061.73 crore as the central government’s share and Rs 31,733.17 crore as the state government’s share. The Centre will also bear an additional cost of Rs 45,000 crore for foodgrains. The scheme is continuing to follow the 60:40 split in expenses by the Centre and states.
“We are making structural changes in the scheme to ensure more transparency. Earlier there were leakages when money went from Centre to state … that will be fixed with the new scheme,” Pradhan told the media.
What’s else has changed
Under the revamped scheme, the central government will ensure Direct Beneficiary Transfer (DBT) from states to schools.
The central government earlier allocated money to the states, which then included their share of the money before sending it to a nodal midday meal scheme authority at district and tehsil levels.
Now, funds will directly be sent to a school’s account, which will use it to cover cooking costs. Honorarium for cooks and helpers will also be sent through DBT, according to the new scheme.
This is to ensure no leakages at the level of district administration and other authorities.
On the nutritional aspect, a nutrition expert is to be appointed in each school whose responsibility is to ensure that health aspects such as BMI, weight and haemoglobin levels are addressed.
“Earlier our focus was to give meals to kids, but now we will ensure nutritional aspects as well like weight, BMI and other health aspects,” a senior official informed.
If states want to add extra items on the menu, such as milk and fruits, or other nutritional items apart from the vegetables, grains and pulses suggested by the Centre, they can do so with the Centre’s approval so long as it falls within the allocated budget. Earlier, extra items were paid for from the state’s pocket.
A social audit of the scheme has also been mandated for each school in each state to study the implementation of the scheme, which was so far not being done by all states. The ministry will also engage college and university students to monitor the scheme at a local level.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)