Fund crunch upends plan for nutritious food for kids

Fund crunch upends plan for nutritious food for kids

As the academic year 2024-25 is about to start, the education department and allied departments are in a hurry to prepare everything ready for the students by the time they step into government schools.

Apart from the preparation of textbooks and the kit, the government decided to give nutrient-rich, healthy and tasty food under the midday meals programme.

To achieve this aim, the departments concerned rightly entered into an MoU with Taj Group of Hotels to train the women who are already cooking the midday meals for the children but forgot to sanction funds for the training programme and enhance the budget for the meals to be prepared as per the recipe by the star chefs. 

Under the Pradhan Mantri Poshan Abhiyaan, the Union government wanted to address the two pressing problems for the majority of children, hunger, and education, by improving the nutritional status of children studying in eligible schools.

The programme pays a maximum of Rs 3 per kg of rice and Rs 7.45 for the ingredients, vegetables, pulses, oils, other condiments and fuel. The bill for the midday meals will be split by the Centre and the state government in the ratio of 60:40.

Though the Centre didn’t pay for the students of Class 9 and 10, the state is paying for them.  Under the midday meals programme, the cooks receive Rs 6.15 per head for the primary students, and Rs 8.35 per head for the high school students along with supplying the fortified rice.

This year, the government wanted to train the cooks on how to cook the food by keeping the vitamins and nutrients intact in the food. The chefs from the Taj Group of Hotels prepared the recipes for the menu in the midday meals and trained five to six master cooks from each district.

The cooks in the schools in the mandals are assigned to the master cooks as per the ratio, and the one-day training programmes are scheduled to be taking place in the mandals up to June 1 

Though the aim of the government is noble, the implementation of the programme from the training itself has become a mockery. The chefs from the selected star hotels prepared videos for the dishes and showed them to the cooks.

The cooks working in the midday meals programme are mostly illiterates and some active women were selected as master cooks and sent for training. 

These master cooks didn’t understand what the chefs told them. The government ordered the DEOs to see the MEOs conduct a training programme for the remaining cooks by the master cooks but didn’t allocate any funds.

The MEOs who can bear the money to buy the ingredients and arrange stoves, lunch and snacks for the cooks attending the training programme did it, but those who cannot just showed the videos by chefs and explained the material in English to the cooks.

They are ready to give more nutritious and vitamin-rich food to the children, but the government should revise the rates per head according to the rates in the market. She said that they are spending almost all of their honorarium, Rs 3000, for the midday meals just for the satisfaction of cooking for the children.

A cook suspected that the training by star hotel chefs may be a scam. She suggested that the government stop wasting money on such programmes and demanded revision of the budget and honorarium first and pay it in time.