Did India have 138.7 million children studying in government schools in 2013-14 or 108 million? The answer to that may provide an indication as to how much corruption there is in the country’s mid-day-meal (MDM) scheme. Earlier this week, the government said, in future, MDMs needed to be linked to Aadhaar numbers to ensure, as in other schemes like LPG, leakages are reduced to the minimum.
According to a performance audit of MDM by the CAG, while state governments reported a total of 138.7 million children as enrolled in schools, based on the number getting mid-day meals, there were only 108 million. The gap is even higher in certain states like Uttar Pradesh where, as compared to 19.8 million children enrolled, those appearing for meals is a much lower 11 million. After its performance audit, the CAG had said “audit evidenced an institutionalised exaggeration of figures regarding students availing MDMs”. In other words, the gap may be even higher.
Based on the 138.7 million number and the government norm of foodgrain per child per day — 100 grams for children in primary school and 150 grams for higher classes — this would mean the government needed to give 3.9 million tonnes of grain to those providing mid-day meals. Using the MDM numbers lowers this to 3.03 million tonnes — the actual amount lifted by the state governments under the MDM scheme in 2013-14 was 2.6 million tonnes, suggesting under-feeding of children.
Some mid-day meal providers, however, point out that, on average, children don’t eat more than 60-65 grams of foodgrain per day. Based on that, the amount of foodgrain required falls to 1.7 million tonnes, a good third less than the 2.6 million tonnes that was lifted by the state governments in 2013-14.
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While linking Aadhaar numbers to supply of mid-day meals will ensure there are no leakages, the government will have to do an independent exercise to determine how much foodgrain is eaten by the average child.