Budget 2020-21: With education having a crucial role to play in accelerating the socio-economic development of the nation, the allocation for various schemes in the sector is always eagerly awaited.
- By Chanchalapathi Dasa
Union Budget 2020 India: Budget allocation is a key measure of our commitment to developmental goals. With education having a crucial role to play in accelerating the socio-economic development of the nation, the allocation for various schemes in the sector is always eagerly awaited. Last year (i.e., Union Budget 2019-20), the Government allocated Rs 94,853.64 crores to the education sector of which Rs 56,536 crores were allotted to the school sector.
Within the education sector, the allocation of funds for the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Programme is essential. Last year, the MDM Programme was allocated Rs 11,000 Crore which was subsequently increased by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs to Rs 12,054 Crore. In the 2019-20 Union Budget, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) had approved 5% of the Annual Work Plan and Budget under the Mid-Day Meal Programme for new interventions. These changes are indeed encouraging.
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The investment in nutrition welfare programmes, especially the MDM Scheme and Anganwadi feeding initiative in the domain of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), need continued focus to ensure performance on key malnutrition indicators. Considering that investment in child nutrition is one of the most effective entry points for human development, nutrition welfare schemes have become integral to child development. The Government of India can further work in tandem with all states to enhance their budgetary provisions towards MDM Programme, boosting the efforts to address malnutrition among children.
For efficient implementation of the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme, the budget should be enhanced for various components. While providing cooked meals to children can contribute to their nutritional intake, other factors such as proper sanitation, quality of education, and a proper learning environment need to be given equal importance, to build a healthy school ecosystem for the overall development of children.
Alongside the delivery of nutrition, convergence of various service components is requisite to further safeguard the health of children. A budgetary provision for providing potable water in all schools will also contribute to this end. Emphasizing on the use of soap for hand wash for maintaining hygiene can lead to behavioural change among students, which can go beyond mid-day meals, to students’ home. School managements can also ensure that cooks and helpers maintain the highest standards of hygiene if their training costs are included under the Scheme’s budget. Capacity building of teachers in government schools through continuous training aimed at sustaining the school ecosystem can be addressed with budget allocation in this particular area.
There is a need to strengthen the MDM Scheme further to achieve the desired objectives — enhancing nutrition level among students, school enrolment and attendance, and reducing dropout rates, enhancing the nutritional value of the food and promoting health. This is possible with an enhanced budget and innovative implementation. The policy inclusion of breakfast in schools in the National Education Policy was a welcome change. It should be supported with an allocation for the breakfast initiative alongside the Mid-Day Meal Programme in Government and Government-aided schools to ensure a holistic, healthy diet for school-going children in the country in the upcoming budget. Similarly, the proposed School Nutrition (Kitchen) Garden is an idea that could benefit from exclusive fund allocation to NGOs, under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to cover nearly 12 lakh schools across
Poshan Abhiyan is underway to make India malnutrition-free by 2022. In order to strengthen the Mid-Day Meal Programme and to bring uniformity across the nation, monitoring and evaluation need to be improved, and this requires to be a part of the budget allocation.
An enhanced budget that supports the MDM Scheme and the various components associated with the holistic development of the school ecosystem will eventually result in making a positive impact on education. The financial boost brought about will play a crucial role in our pursuit of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a country, all the more so if we are to achieve these goals by 2030.
- Chanchalapathi Dasa is Vice-Chairman, The Akshaya Patra Foundation. Views are the author’s own.