Serving mid-day meals on credit: A blow to RTE Act

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What a disturbing revelation! For eight long months, the State Government has not been releasing a single rupee for implementation of Mid-Day Meal scheme in Manipur even after the Government of India had sanctioned Rs 46.37 crore for the same. It has been reported that the same amount was sanctioned in two phases and it had been deposited with the State Government’s Finance Department. It is quite interesting that Headmasters/Headmistresses of many schools were ensuring regular mid-day meal to their students by purchasing rice and other edible items on credit, not because they cared for students but because they feared disciplinary action from the State’s BJP-led coalition Government in case they did not implement the Government of India’s flagship programme. No doubt, Mid-Day Meal scheme is a very noble project of the Government of India. The scheme was conceptualised with the primary objectives of enhancing enrolment of children in schools and attendance of classes and at the same time, improve nutritional levels among children of primary and upper primary levels. Since funds for Mid-Day Meal scheme have not been released for the past eight months, both the previous Government and the incumbent State Governments are culpable for the new coalition Government has already completed five months in office. Denial or any tendency to deny mid-day meal to students means robbing formal education as well as nutritious food off a considerable number of students. With the implementation of this scheme, it became easier for the authorities to convince people to send their children to school and school enrolment and attendance improved. It also helped in solving the problem of classroom hunger—one of the main reasons for lack of concentration in school children. Over the years, the Mid-day Meal Scheme has done a fair bit to eradicate hunger and promote education. These are some of the positive impacts of Mid-Day Meal scheme reported by an NGO.

It is children of the poorest of poor families who count on the Mid-Day Meal scheme for their daily lunch as well as formal education. But the State Government’s failure to release funds for the same scheme for eight months evokes two serious questions. First, how did Headmasters/Headmistresses provide mid-day meals for eight months on credit? And second, why is the State Government not releasing the funds already sanctioned by the Government of India? Why the Headmasters/Headmistresses didn’t stop providing mid-day meals when the Government did not release any fund is another question analogous to the first question. These questions might not have been necessary if it was just two or three months but eight months is too long. There certainly are some grey areas if we are not mistaken. If the State Government’s repeated claim to maintain transparency and accountability has any truth, it owes a convincing explanation for its failure to release Mid-Day Meal funds for such a long period of time. As for the Headmasters/Headmistresses who volunteered to provide mid-day meals on credit deserve appreciation for the apparent care they showed to their poor students for such a long period of time as well as remonstration for shouldering someone’s responsibility (sic State Government). Is it a case of donkey barking on behalf of dog? As far as we understand, nothing can be more paramount than food and education. The State Government needs to look into the intrinsic links between the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme. If one goes by this logic and argument, the State Government has been violating the Right to Education Act by withholding Mid-Day Meal fund for eight long months. Or is the State Government totally disinterested in poor children’s education and nutrition?

Source: The Sangai Express

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