“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Maroof looks at a program that was intended to end hunger among students but ended as making beggers out of students, contractors out of teachers, and turned the educational department into the den of corruption

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 31, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors’s degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

Mid-day Meal Scheme in Kashmir

Many teachers are expressing their extreme displeasure on midday meal scheme. Everything written here is based on information provided by teachers when personally interviewed. I have yet to meet one who approved of the scheme in its present form. They say that once upon a time teaching department was considered to be noble and free of corruption. The midday meals scheme has poisoned this profession. It has made some teachers contractors, of course, C grade ones. It has inculcated begging attitude in some students. It has compelled many teachers to give less attention to teaching. Midday meal programme launched in order to feed the hungry students, correct the deficiencies malnutritioned students and attract more and more students to schools is almost a complete failure in Kashmir. It is a source of great corruption. It has tempted traditionally sacrosanct professionals to corruptions of all kinds. It has led to unforeseen problems in schools.

The meals provided, generally speaking, don’t constitute balanced diet and don’t correct malnutrition. Aalu dal or soya fed to students instead of recommended menu that includes more nutritious things can’t correct the deficiencies. Sometimes not a single piece of potato is there for a student.

Practically what happens is that low quality food is given to students, that is, sometimes too unpalatable. Many students refuse to take it because it is not worth eating. In-charge teachers show full attendance of all the students in the month including even strike days. Higher authorities are attesting the papers knowing fully well that this is manipulated. Ask any nutritionist to comment on the nutritional quality of the diet that is routinely fed to students. We should not see the manipulated statements but survey randomly different schools and ask the students.

We could achieve the target of better roles for which midday meal scheme was designed without meals. Students could get better food if they need it by the same money paid in cash. We could replace the money spent for meals for a month or two by cash payment or scholarship paid to every student to see the difference in response. This will ensure transparency as we could legislate to give money as payee’s cheque. This will ensure more attendance. This will also check the problem of false rolls reflected in many attendance systems.

I am making simply two points. Why force students to eat midday meals, to eat substandard meals, to inculcate a begging attitude in them through it? Why not try alternatives that will involve lesser corruption if not no corruption? If most teachers are not happy, if many students are not happy, if general public has reservations why impose the scheme? There are some positive points associated with the scheme but its ill effects far outweigh the good ones. If we use all the money granted for midday schemes for uplifting only the deserving or poor students huge difference could be created. Not many school going students suffer malnutrition. The few that suffer are not helped, generally speaking, by existing midday meal scheme. Let any nutritionist be asked to give his judgment. Let every day a small prize be given to the best presentation at the prayer class or on weekly debates and other dozen kinds of extracurricular competitions. The money of the taxpayer goes mainly in the pockets of many corrupt clerks and teachers and officers. Let teachers association raise its voice against this scheme.

I don’t think anything could be achieved by tightening vigil on corruption in delivery of midday scheme. It seems to be a corrupt idea in its essence if applied indiscriminately in all schools, to all students. In the name of a few students in some remote areas who may be supposed to be hungry but for the midday meals or who feel it as an incentive to come to school millions of dollars are squandered, misappropriated. I wish sociology students take up this as thesis project so that the world will see a huge hoax is being perpetrated. If only half of the money spent on the scheme be spent on increasing quality of education or strengthening infrastructure of educational institutions we could very well have an educational revolution.

At many places in India midday meal scheme is working quite well but surely not in Kashmir. Agreeing that students should be provided refreshment if not full meals during recess period why not give students an egg, a glass of milk and say a banana instead of third rate meal? If we can’t ensure quality control we should not allow the scheme to operate. I wish the balanced diet to be given to students but if the department can’t ensure that it should divert the funds to some other channel for the benefit of students.

If it is indeed necessary to feed children at schools let government ask for private services in this area. Let cafeteria be opened in all schools and the department may also pay Rs 10 to every student for the meals. I have enjoyed the best vegetable meal which will suffice for two students if not more for Rs 15 in Central University Hyderabad in students canteen a few days back. The same or lesser could be fixed here as well and contractor shall get everything done of his own. If the teachers are able to make a business out of Rs 2 excluding rice, transport, cooking and fuel charges why can’t our contractors? If the government is sincere and nobody interested in corruption and looting public money let it invite tenders, give the room reserved for meals to contractors and fix the price of the meals rupees ten or even below excluding the cost of rice which should be provided as is in vogue now from rashan depots and of tea Rs 3. This will employ thousands if not tens of thousands of unemployed youth. This could revive cooperatives also. It could boost vegetable industry and milk industry. If this idea is not feasible it means there is no need for the midday meals. Students, generally speaking, manage well without it.

Still I grant the necessity of meals in some pockets. We should identify those pockets and confine the scheme to them. Or if we intend to give food to every student and make it mandatory the best idea is to invite youth seeking employment to open up cafeteria and serve as suppliers of food and other items like ice creams, juices. If we think private investors will not be interested in the business of midday meals in schools then why should government be so serious about it and managing to do it though badly at very cheap rates? If this is the case then there is no warrant, no compelling necessity for these meals which cost exchequer a huge sum, breed corruption, distract both teachers and students, inculcate a spirit of beggary in many students and increase burden on clerks.