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Maharashtra midday meal: Dal-khichdi every day (no veggies, fruit, sweet)! | Mumbai News – Times of India


MUMBAI/THANE: A meal for Rs 5.45 or Rs 8.17? That’s how little Maharashtra spends on lunch for underprivileged students. Doing the bare minimum and with no meaningful effort to step up the nutrition programme, the midday meal scheme (MDM) in the state is not a patch on those in states such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka who offer a range of options (see graphic).

The cost of a meal per child per day for classes 1 to 5 has been fixed by the Centre at Rs. 5.45; for classes 6 to 8 it is Rs 8.17. The Centre provides 60% of the funds, so Maharashtra has to merely cover the remaining 40% to keep the scheme running. And that’s all it does.
Over three days last week, TOI visited schools in Mumbai and a rural neighbourhood to see what was on the children’s plates, only to find a weak dal-khichdi with nothing else on the side. No vegetables, no egg, no supplements, not even a fruit. School heads said apart from the monotony of dal-rice and khichdi, emphasis was lacking on variety and nutrition.
At a government-aided school in Dahisar, this correspondent was told that the supplier was dispatching dabba after steel dabba of khichdi everyday, only varying the lentils. “The previous supplier was good. Students asked for seconds, but now they turn up their noses,” said the principal. “We complained but were told off saying the annual menu was already fixed in the contract and would not change.”
Last Tuesday, when TOI visited the school, the menu was moong dal khichdi with soyabean and chana. Apart from a hit of spice, there was no flavour. There were no vegetables, no curry, no fries. A class four student said she preferred bringing a tiffin box of roti and sabzi.
When TOI visited two schools in Thane rural last Wednesday, dal-rice was being served. Stray bits of tomato floated in a watery dal with no trace of any vegetable; teachers said spinach was sometimes added. Some students had brought a dish from home. A cook at a Thane rural school said she ended up using her own money to buy vegetables. Teachers too said they pitched in if supplies were delayed and recovered it later.
“Right now, it’s just rice, day in and day out,” said a senior teacher at a Malad school, who is assigned the task of tasting the meals. In July, the school asked her to review the food and she did not pull her punches. The school then asked the supplier to also provide idli-chutney, upma, sheera and boiled chana. “Since they increased the cost, we told the supplier to offset it against Thursday when our school is shut.”
The state has a prescribed menu, but districts can customize the fare within nutritional norms. The quality varies depending on the PDS grain supplied and the self-help group (SHG) available to cook.
In Mumbai, there are central kitchen agencies. However, there are discrepancies in supplies. For instance, a BMC school in Govandi reported having received bananas only once since the academic year began; another school said it had not received bananas at all. Ajay Wani, BMC’s deputy education officer, said banana as a supplement was an option among seasonal fruits, apart from ladoos made of puffed rice or rajgira. But banana peels, he said, posed the problem of disposal. Hence schools preferred the ladoos.
In Govandi, one of Mumbai’s poorest pockets, MDM is the reason some students can survive a day at school. “Many come on an empty stomach,” said a principal. Though the scheme is only for students up to class 8, the school is looking for an NGO that can provide food to classes 9 and 10 too. “We have had cases of students fainting,” she said.
Right to Food campaigner Vishal Jadhav said the scheme was being implemented half-heartedly without proper audits. “If any school staff speaks up, they are targeted.”
Looking for change
This May, the Maharashtra Rajya Mahila Sahakari Sansthanche Federation Ltd., a collective of SHGs providing MDMs, wrote to Maharashtra’s Director of Education (Primary) highlighting how supplying meals had become a “challenge…given the very high prices of the materials (lentils, vegetables, condiments etc).” Their letter pointed out the “stark contrast in implementation by other states like Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu who effectively provide milk/eggs/chikki for five days a week, besides the regular midday meals”.
Dipika Sahani, a lawyer working on the scheme, said the southern states provide variety and nutrition as they have allocated more than the minimum required 40% share of funds. “One flaw in Maharashtra is supplementary nutrition (additional items given once a week). The cost for that is carved out from the scheme itself, whereas in other well-performing states, money is separately set aside for that.”
Officials say Maharashtra is now preparing to revamp its MDM menu. Sambhaji Pawar, superintendent, primary education, said a committee is deliberating on adding more items to the meal. “Though a final decision is awaited, multigrain paratha, two types of idlis and fortified khichdi are being considered.”



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