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Mid-Day Meal Scheme: Corruption and Controversies | The Probe Podumentary

The Mid-Day Meal scheme has been in the thick of controversy over the substandard quality of food served to children and the scheme’s poor implementation. Hear this latest episode of our Podumentary!

By The Probe
New Update

The Mid-Day Meal scheme, which is the government’s scheme for free Mid-Day meals in schools, was initially designed to better the nutritional standing of school-going children, but since the inception of this programme, the Mid-Day Meal scheme has been in the thick of controversy over the substandard quality of food served to children and the scheme’s poor implementation. Hear what’s going wrong with the scheme!


Anuradha Talwar 

State Convener

Right To Food Campaign (RTFC)

West Bengal

Asif Hussain Sohail 

President, Telangana Parents Association for Child Rights and Safety

Chandan Maiti
Secretary, Advanced Society for Headmasters and Headmistresses, West Bengal

Dr Sylvia Karpagam


Public Health Doctor 

Dr Veena Shatrughna 

Former Deputy Director

National Institute of Nutrition


Produced below are the abridged version of the transcripts of our Podumentary (audio documentary) titled: Mid-Day Meal Scheme: Corruption and Controversies

The Mid-Day Meal scheme, which is the government's scheme for free Mid-Day Meals in schools, was initially designed to better the nutritional standing of school-going children, but since the inception of this programme, the Mid-Day Meal scheme has been in the thick of controversy over the substandard quality of food served to children and the scheme's poor implementation. Chandan Maiti, Secretary of the Advanced Society for Headmasters and Headmistresses in West Bengal, says it is extremely painful when the schools serve such second-rate meals even as the children beg for better quality food.

 "The Supreme Court of India directed the government of India to introduce the Mid-Day Meal scheme, and after that, the government of India introduced this and recently, on 7th October 2022, the Mid Day Meal Scheme was renamed as the PM POSHAN scheme. The price rise of essential commodities has increasingly made it difficult for states to implement this scheme. Sometimes students demand much more, and we cannot provide them. Whenever we experience these things, this becomes very painful."

The centrally sponsored Mid-Day Meal scheme covers all school children studying in Classes 1 to 8 in government and government-aided schools. The scheme covers about 11.8 crore children studying in 11.2 lakh schools across the country. Asif Hussain Sohail, President of the Telangana Parents Association for Child Rights and Safety, says that the lack of monitoring of the scheme's implementation has thrown the programme open to multiple anomalies.

"The government is paying them the proper amount, but when they deliver to the students, the quality of the food is deficient. It's a complete failure of the administration. Even the government should monitor it but that rarely happens. When there is a probe, many schools offer bribes, and they get away. The witnesses get hostile, and they threaten the complainants. Even the students can't complain about this. Once they complain, they will be removed from the school."

Though the government of India has made the social audit of the scheme mandatory in all districts, in reality, the auditing and monitoring mechanism is fraught with numerous problems. Recently, in a letter, a minister in Madhya Pradesh alleged that Mid-Day Meals were not distributed in 100 schools for about six months in the state. In UP, there have been media reports about schools serving plain rice with salt to children as part of the Mid-Day Meal scheme.

In September, the Income Tax department searched over 50 places in Jaipur and other cities in Rajasthan in connection with the alleged irregularities in the supply and distribution of Mid-Day Meals to school children. Dr Sylvia Karpagam, researcher and a public health doctor, says that today, in our country, this scheme is reduced to mere tokenism and is depriving children of their nutritional rights.  

"The idea behind the Mid Day Meal scheme itself was it had a nutritional and a larger social ideology in mind. Basically, it was to encourage children to attend schools, because the Right To Education is an important right of children. Children also want to have a guaranteed meal for the day because many of the children who go to public schools are from very poor communities and marginalised sections. In many states, what we are seeing is, it has become just tokenism. You know, just for the sake of giving something, it's being given. There is no commitment to improving the nutritional or educational status of children. The thing is, cereals and millets are the cheapest foods that are available, and that is what is being given across the schools. We need foods from different food groups like cereals and millets, pulses and legumes, eggs, dairy, fats and oils, meats, vegetables and fruits and the likes."

The Indian government's Mid-Day Meal scheme is the largest of its kind in the world. The name of this programme has been changed to PM-POSHAN, which is Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman Scheme and falls under the Ministry of Education. Even though India is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where India has committed to providing adequate nutritious food to children, Dr Sylvia Karpagam asserts that ideology has taken over the scheme today and has compromised the nutritional value of children's meals.

"We are seeing ideology is what is deciding the Mid Day Meal. You have people saying eggs shouldn't be given only from an ideological point of view. For example, in Akshay Patra, they say eggs are Tamasic, but we, as doctors and scientists, say eggs are highly nutritionally dense foods. So, who gets the preference? It's obviously the ideological group that is getting the preference when it comes to deciding the Mid-Day Meal scheme. And again, the same organisation doesn't use onion and garlic, and the problem is taste is also very important. A lot of people are culturally used to eating onion and garlic. So, when you say you should eat Satvic food, again, that doesn't come from a scientific point of view. And onion and garlic are actually being shown to improve the absorption and bioavailability of zinc and iron, and both of these are deficient in a majority of children, as per the Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey. So, I think shifting the focus of the meal, the planning of the meal to science and to making it more nutritionally dense is much more important than allowing politics, ideology, religion and caste to start operating in the Mid Day Meal scheme."

Even when the scheme has failed on numerous counts in its implementation, the Mid-Day Meal scheme has benefited scores of children from the disadvantaged sections. Studies have shown that the scheme has attracted children from poor and marginalised sections of society to attend schools. But in many schools in India, caste-based discrimination continues to occur while serving meals to children. Anuradha Talwar, State Convenor of the Right To Food Campaign in West Bengal, says it's time the government checks discrimination, allocates more funds to the scheme, and adequately compensates workers who cook meals for the children.

"We explored the idea of a centralised kitchen in Kolkata at one time. And with the traffic jams, we found that if you had a centralised kitchen, by the time the food reached the school, it was likely the food would get rotten in the summers. So, you can't have a centralised school. The allocations have to increase. The second problem is that they have very badly paid cooks. So, they pay these cooks for ten months in the year, and they pay them a pittance. I think in West Bengal it is 1500 rupees a month. That kind of payment is unheard of for women who work six to eight hours to cook these meals. This must change."

Due to the hike in prices of essential commodities, many states are increasingly finding it difficult to match up to the nutritional standards while serving meals to the children. Food inflation has made the Mid-Day Meal scheme lighter and less nutritious in thousands of schools across the country. Reduced budgetary allocation coupled with the issue of corruption has compounded the problems surrounding the scheme.

Dr Veena Shatrughna, former Deputy Director of the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad, says that the government must adopt a science-based approach and hold consultations with Right to Food activists instead of the corporate sector so that the scheme is implemented in the best interest of the school child. "The government nowadays does not consult the Right To Food activists anymore. They consult the corporate sector, and the danger is the corporate sector will advise packets of biscuits or bread or something that comes from industrial production so that they can have their profits. That is the danger that is awaiting us. There should be parent committees who should be involved in looking at everyday food. There must be a feedback mechanism. There are brilliant ways of bettering the scheme's implementation, but this entirely depends on the government's will."