Yes your honour

Courts keep out of policy issues as much as possible. So they tread carefully in issues that have huge financial implication. Conveniently, most States complain of financial difficulty in implementing the scheme. Andhra that is just introducing the scheme had estimated it to cost the Rs. 150 crores to provide for all primary students that is less than 0.4% of the budgeted expenditure this year. Compare this to the Rs. 3000 crores Andhra gets as excise thru liquor! Karnataka spends Re. 1 per child per day; by this cost all children in the country can be given mid-day meal with just 1% additional tax on lotteries with an estimated market of Rs. 50,000 crores in India. In other words, finding money for the scheme is not a difficult task.
Not willing to implement the scheme, practically all states have complained that they can’t afford the scheme. When such an argument was put forward in the court the bench had curtly replied with a “cut the flab elsewhere”. So, the states sugar coat the money argument with other arguments. Manipur for example asked for an exemption, “…given the serious financial crisis [of the state government] and also the fact that mid-day meal is not a part of eating habit of the people”!
Recently Maharashtra had passed an order saying they will provide 25p per child per day in Tribal areas and nothing at all in other areas. Their affidavit said, “We beg the indulgence of the court to point out that the incidence of malnutrition are serious in the tribal areas of the State and effective implementation of the scheme is really relevant only in these areas”. Quite a claim considering the nutrition disaster in the country. Where does the rest of the money come from for cooking? Voluntary contributions, says the order. We got field reports that parents were being forced to pay and harassment of the school staff and management were reported. Reports also said that applications were collected from parents and staff saying they do not want cooked meal. Truly enough, the commissioners appointed in the case received a mail from the government “Many representations have been received…indicating their difficulties in implementation of the scheme. The representations broadly argue that the scheme of provision of three KG of rice per month as dry ration to the students as was being done earlier was better scheme and should be continued…In short, people at large prefer dry ration than cooked meal…Thus convincing people about new pattern of mid day meal programme is taking somewhat longer time”! No wonder people are not convinced.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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