Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasudhara Raje Scinda is making a strong pitch for introduction of pre-packaged meals as part of the mid-day meal (MDM) scheme in government schools in the desert state.
Rajasthan government’s move stems from the plan to serve hygienic, pre-packaged foods hot and fresh.
Scindia has written to the Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry on 3 June.
“A letter with such a proposal has come from the Rajasthan government and is under examination,” Ghanshyam Goel, PIB spokesperson for the HRD ministry, told The Economic Times.
The mid-day meal which is served in primary and upper primary schools across the government schools in the nation, has to be “hot-cooked meal” as per the MDM rules, 2015.
However, some state chief ministers and other union ministers have questioned the decision earlier asking for allowing pre-cooked meals.
Raje in her letter said that the pre-cooked meal will be more hygienic, easy to store and cook, and still can be served hot. She also argued that it will give students opportunities to eat different meals on everyday which will increase the popularity of the scheme.
She also argued that the pre-cooked meals can keep a balance on nutritional standards which will help students to stay healthy.
Raje letter comes after several issues surfaced over the hygiene and nutrition of the mid-day meals and its delivery.
She is not the first CM to write about mid-day meal to the HRD ministry.
Former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minster Mayawati had requested the ministry to rethink on the MDM rules in 2007.
Former Union minister of State for Ministry of Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury pitched for it in 2008 and Union Cabinet Minister of Food Processing Harsimrat Badal made several attempts to introduce pre-packaged food as part of MDM.
However, the ministry has not made any changes so far in its rules regarding mid-day meals.
Meanwhile, opposing the move, prominent Indian economist Amartya Sen has written to the UPA government to not allow pre-packaged foods in the schools and urged the ministry to go for only hot-cooked mid-day meals. He also warned the ministry to beware of corporates indulging in it.
According to the data, over 12 crore children studying in primary and upper primary schools in the country are availing the benefits of mid-day meal project.
According to a research study published in MDM Scheme official website, the programme has helped improve attendance and enrolment of children, particularly girls.
The website reported citing some independent research studies that there is an increase in retention, learning ability and achievement as well as greater social equity among caste, creed, sex and gender groups in the schools.
According to the research finding of Pratichi trust of Prof. Amartya Kumar Sen published in 2010, “unlike many other Government programmes, implementation of MDM has been a success throughout the country. Though the quality of food needs to be improved, it must be said that with active participation of the beneficiaries, it has become a community programme.”
The PROBE (Public Report on Basic Education) in its research findings made it clear that 84% of households reported that the children get cooked mid-day meal in schools and children enjoy varied menu. Good practices like washing hands before eating, & after eating are imparted in the schools.
An empirical study conducted on MDM scheme in Khurda district of Orissa, revealed that cooked mid-day meal has increased socialization among the children and helped in increasing enrolment and afternoon session attendance.
It also stated that MDM has created new employment opportunities for underprivileged sections.