Centre has extended the 26-year-old national mid-day scheme to 24 lakh children studying in balvatikas, the pre-primary section of government schools. The Centre has rebranded this old scheme with the cabinet approving a proposal to rename the scheme as the PM POSHAN (Poshan Shakti Nirman) scheme.
First, this mid-day meal scheme provided a hot cooked meal to 11.8 crore government school students from class 1 to 8, but from the next financial year, it will also include the 24 lakh children of balvatikas. The education ministry officials said that this year's financial budget for the work of mid-day meals remained unchanged. An additional ₹266 crores is expected to be added as the Centre Government has decided to include 24 lakh of balvatikas from 2022-23, Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said after the Cabinet decision.
New Education Policy 2020
The addition of mid-day meals to pre-primary students be included in the formal education system was an essential recommendation of the New Education Policy (2020). The population of balvatikas is 24 lakhs, which is expected to rise as the policy is implemented. School Education Department's budget for this year has been cut by almost ₹5,000 crore. However, there have been no progress on the New Education Policies other recommendation to start offering breakfasts to school students. Dharmendra Pradhan declined to comment on the issue. Still, officials from the Ministry told The Hindu that the Finance Ministry rejected the proposal for this year, which would involve an extra-budgetary allocation of ₹ 4,000 crore due to a severe funding crunch.
PM POSHAN has been approved for the next five years until 2025-26, with a total amount of ₹1.31 lakh crore, including ₹31,733 crore as the share to be borne by the state governments. It will "improve nutritional status, and encourage learning and education and increase enrolments in government schools," Pradhan said as reported by The Hindu.
Focus on Improving Nutrition
The renamed scheme aims to focus on "Holistic Nutrition" goals. The ministry officials said that 5% Flexi component would be built into the existing budget to allow states to include additional nutrition-rich elements- such as fruits, milk and fortified foods-into the menu. And the use of locally grown traditional foods will be encouraged, along with school nutrition gardens. Social audits have been made compulsory in all the districts, and trainee teachers and college students will be tied in to do field inspections to ensure the quality of mid-day meals.
To improve authenticity and reduce leakages, States will directly transfer the amount for mid-day meals in the schools accounts for the expense of cooking and voluntary amounts to the bank accounts of cooks and helpers, However with the new name old scheme does not include any progress, on the long pending demand of cooks to increase the ₹ 600 by the Center as their monthly voluntary payment. " If states wish to give top-up, they can do so", added Pradhan.