The Union Cabinet has approved the Prime Minister POSHAN scheme or PM-POSHAN for providing one hot cooked meal in Government and Government-aided schools. The scheme will replace the existing national programme for mid-day meal in schools or Mid-day Meal Scheme. It has been launched for an initial period of five years (2021-22 to 2025-26).
ABOUT MID-DAY MEAL:
The Mid-day Meal Scheme (under the Ministry of Education) is a centrally sponsored scheme which was launched in 1995. It is considered as the world’s largest school meal programme aimed to attain the goal of universalization of primary education.
Provides cooked meals to every child within the age group of six to fourteen years studying in classes I to VIII who enrolls and attends the school. If the Mid-Day Meal is not provided in school on any school day due to non-availability of food grains or any other reason, the State Government shall pay food security allowance by 15th of the succeeding month.
ABOUT POSHAN SCHEME:
Coverage: The scheme will cover 11.8 crore students enrolled in classes 1 to 8 in over 11.2 lakh schools across the country. Primary (1-5) and upper primary (6-8) schoolchildren are currently entitled to 100 grams and 150 grams of food grains per working day each, to ensure a minimum of 700 calories.
The scheme will be extended to students studying in pre-primary or Bal Vikas running in government and government aided primary schools. 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.
Nutritional Gardens: The government will promote nutritional gardens in schools. The gardens are being provided to offer additional micro-nutrients to students.
The new scheme has a provision for supplementary nutrition for children in aspirational districts and those with high prevalence of anaemia.It does away with the restriction on the part of the Centre to provide funds only for wheat, rice, pulses and vegetables. Currently, if a state decides to add any component like milk or eggs to the menu, the Centre does not bear the additional cost. Now that restriction has been lifted.
Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT): The central government will ensure Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) from states to schools, which will use it to cover cooking costs. Earlier money was allocated 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. This is to ensure no leakages at the level of district administration and other authorities.
Nutrition Expert: A nutrition expert is to be appointed in each school whose responsibility is to ensure that health aspects such as Body Mass Index (BMI), weight and haemoglobin levels are addressed.
Social Audit of the Scheme: 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 of Education will also engage college and university students to monitor the scheme at a local level.
Fund Sharing: The Centre will bear Rs. 54,061 crore of the total estimated cost of Rs 1.3 lakh crore, with the states paying Rs 31,733 crore (Rs 45,000 crore will be released by the Centre as subsidies for food grains).
Vocal for Local for Atma Nirbhar Bharat: Involvement of Farmers Producer Organizations (FPO) and Women Self Help Groups in implementation of the scheme will be encouraged. Use of locally grown traditional food items for a fillip to local economic growth will be encouraged.
Challenges to scheme
Meeting Nutrition Targets: As per the Global Nutrition Report 2020, India is among 88 countries that are likely to miss global nutrition targets by 2025.
Serious ‘Hunger’ Level: India has been ranked at 94 among 107 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020. India has a level of hunger that is “serious”.
Menace of Malnutrition: According to the National Family Health Survey-5, several states across the country have reversed course and recorded worsening levels of child malnutrition. India is home to about 30% of the world’s stunted children and nearly 50% of severely wasted children under the age of five.
As India is the home to over 2 million malnourished children, PM Poshan scheme can act as a ray of hope. It just needs a proper execution so that the scheme can be accessed by the poorest of the poor thereby taking care of their not just nutritional needs but also educational needs.