According to official statistics, 3,000 children die every day in India due to malnutrition. Though there are schemes like the Midday Meal which aim at stemming the dual challenge of malnutrition and child education, experts opine that the Government has to go a long way to ensure that no child in the country remains hungry. Renowned social activist Madhu Pandit Dasa, who was honoured with the prestigious Padma Shri Award this year for his mid-day meal service in schools, speaks to Bureaucracy Today about the challenges that come in the way of implementing the Scheme.
According to a nationwide survey conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013-14 in collaboration with the UNICEF, the proportion of underweight children in India was 29.4% and that of stunted children 38.7%. Though after years of stasis, there seems to be some sign of progress in India’s battle against malnutrition, its rates still remain high.
Padma Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa says that malnutrition has been one of the enduring enigmas of contemporary India. Despite years of rapid economic growth, the child malnutrition rate has remained unchanged for years.
He says though the Mid-day Meal Programme can address the issue, there are loopholes galore. “India being a plural society, the implementation of the Mid-day Meal Programme is definitely not easy. There are disparities in managing various departments such as the Education Department and the Women and Child Development Department across the country. Apart from these, there are problems like the lack of a proper monitoring system, and hygiene, an inadequate budget allocation, infrastructural issues in rural areas and a low compensation to cooks and staff which need to be addressed by the Government for the successful implementation of such programmes,” says Dasa.
He says there is an urgent need to find solutions to these problems because such programmes are of immense importance for millions of Indian children. “The meals can be customized to suit the palate of the said region; it will help in reducing problems posed by the plural nature of the country. More importantly, if we put in place a uniform monitoring system, we’ll be able to tackle most of these problems effectively. There is no lack of will in this regard. If we are lacking in something, it is in terms of effort,” Pandit Dasa says.
The education sector, he says, is an area where “we can make the difference”. “About 71% of the school-going children in our country are studying in government schools and the Government can reach them through the Mid-day Meal Programme. It also gives people a reason to send their children to school instead of forcing them to work and support the family. One has to understand that quality food is a need for productive educational experience in schools. In the long run it will help us in creating citizens of ability and good character,” Pandit Dasa says.