With government schools being shut across various states in light of the pandemic, the Centre has decided to give Rs 100 to students studying in classes 1-8 in government schools who are beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme.
The money will be given to 11.8 crore children through direct transfer as a one-time payment.
"This decision will help safeguard the nutritional levels of children and aid in protecting their immunity during the challenging pandemic times," said the statement.
The Centre will provide additional funds of about Rs 1,200 crore to state governments and UT administrations for this purpose, as per the statement by the Education Ministry.
The total budget for the mid-day meal scheme set by the Centre is 11,500 crore this year where the largest component is the cooking costs. The cooking cost covers the prices of the ingredients of the meal such as oil, pulses, rice etc.
Last year, the cost of cooking for each child was set at Rs 4.97 for primary school children and Rs 7.45 for middle school children with the Centre paying for 60% of the cost. This year, however, the Centre has not replied to queries about the proportion of cooking cost spent this year and what their plans are with the rest of the money.
"With schools being closed due to COVID-19, children are being given cash in lieu of the mid-day meal in some places and dry rations in others. Either way, the quantities/amounts are too low to be even adequate for one nutritious meal a day," said Dipa Sinha, associate professor of economics at Ambedkar University to The Hindu.
Reetika Khera, a development economist at IIT-Delhi and a Right to Food activist said that the amount was insufficient as with around 200 days of school, each child should get around Rs 900-1,300 annually. She also suggested that the government transfer the ration money of 2020 as it had hardly given out any rations or transferred the cooking cost.
Khera had also pointed out that when a school pools in the money given to them, it barely meets the nutritional norms and parents are be able to buy even less for the child. She urged the government to resume the mid-day meals in a staggered manner as money or dry rations is a poor substitute for the hot meals.