Yes your honour

I wrote this article in 2003 when mid-day meal scheme was resisted by most states despite a direction from the Supreme Court of India directing them to implement it.

Sir Humphrey of ‘Yes Minister’ fame would be proud of our babus. Once they are determined to do or not to do something, they act creatively steer history their way. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered all the states and UTs to implement the mid-day meal scheme in all government and government aided primary schools and thus unleashed their creativity again. Saying, “Yes your honour” on one hand most States continue to do what they please…
India has an alarming nutrition situation. Over half the children are malnourished. Close to a fifth are severely malnourished. Hungry children find it difficult to concentrate in the class. Cooked mid-day meal programmes contribute precisely here and have also consistently increased the attendance rates. Recognising this and other benefits the Supreme Court has asked the governments to implement the scheme in all primary schools.
In India the mid-day meal scheme is a centrally sponsored scheme. The centre gives the grains free and shares a small part of the costs of transport and cooking. Transportation and cooking has to be arranged by the states. Reluctant to spend time and resources in this programme, the states have been gladly distributing just the grain to the students (called ‘dry-rations’). The Supreme Court order that came on November 28, 2001 caught them unawares and now most of the states are finding ways of not implementing the order.
Take the case of Bihar. Almost one year after the order has been passed, there is no sign in the state of mid-day meal being provided. An year ago they wrote a letter to the Government of India asking it to provide the finances (it is the State’s responsibility). Nothing else to our knowledge has happened and certainly the meals are not coming. But this is what the state had to claim in the response to the Court, “To shift to providing cooked mid-day meal a comprehensive scheme has been presented to the Government of India … As son as it is approved by the government of India, all steps will be taken to provide mid-day meal within the given parameters and the time frame contained in the order…That in the facts and circumstances stated above, it is evident that the government of Bihar has taken all necessary steps to ensure compliance with the order … except for the direction …under the mid-day meal scheme where full compliance is subject to further actions on behalf of the GoI”. A reader unaware of the situation would indeed be gratified with the sincerity of government of Bihar.

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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