[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 28 April, 2003, 11:45 GMT 12:45 UK
Feeding India's children
By Jill McGivering
BBC correspondent in Delhi

State governments in India are under pressure to provide free school meals each day to more than a hundred million children.

Children in Gujarat eating lunch
The "midday meals" scheme may be failing needy children

The governments are bound by a Supreme Court order to implement the so-called "midday meals scheme" which many see as an important way of giving nutrition to primary school children from low income families and boosting school attendance.

But although the scheme has been partly implemented, critics say it is still failing needy children.

In a state school in the capital, Delhi, a class of seven-year-olds waits for a new daily ritual - the handing out of packets of food.

The school started providing snacks in January, each portion about 300 calories.

They are complying with a recent court order that all government schools must provide a cooked meal to pupils between the ages of five and 10.


Teacher Mahipal Singh says it has boosted attendance in the school by about 15%.

When they go home and say they're given food, it encourages other children to come
Mahipal Singh, teacher

"Most children here don't get enough to eat at home and suffer from malnutrition. This is a good way of keeping them in school," he says.

"When they go home and say they're given food, it encourages other children to come."

It is a huge scheme, targetting 105 million children across India.

Despite the court order, so far only about a third of those children are actually getting the cooked meals they are entitled to.

Some others are given uncooked rice to take home.


States like Tamil Nadu have made great efforts to comply with the scheme but others, like Bihar, have barely scratched the surface.

Sushil Chandra Tripathi is the government secretary in charge of monitoring the scheme.

"Both the local bodies and the states, they have been complaining about fund shortages and they have been expecting some support.

Indian schoolgirls
Only about a third of the children are receiving the food

"The Government of India has been supporting in terms of supply of food grains which come free of cost to the states and the local bodies," he says.

Sanju, who is seven, used to bring bread from home before the scheme started.

Now she takes food back from school to share with her sisters.

Where the scheme is being implemented, the impact seems dramatic.

One study in Rajasthan showed attendance was up 25% overall - and 35% for girls.

Breaking barriers

Jean Dreze of Delhi's School of Economics says caste barriers are also challenged because the children eat together.

I wish they would give the children something more healthy to eat
Leelawati, mother

He has little time for state governments who claim they cannot afford the scheme.

"I can't think of a better use of public funds in India today than providing cooked meals for schoolchildren. It's really extremely important both for the well being of the citizens and the future of the nation.

"So for these purposes I'm sure money can be made available."

Mr Dreze points out that money is always made available for less important things where a political lobby is involved.

"The problem here is that children don't have that kind of political influence."

The quality of food is crucial too.

Some reports of food poisoning have made parents worried their children might be at risk.

One mother waiting at the school gates, Leelawanti, said the food wasn't always good.

"Sometimes they give deep-fried, greasy snacks which are very unhealthy. It worries me. I wish they would give the children something more healthy to eat," she says.

Everyone agrees the scheme could bring huge benefits.

It could help to nourish children from poor communities and increase school attendance.

But real success depends on implementation - and how motivated state governments are to give hot meals to more than 100 million children every day.

New meals scheme makes children sick
02 Jan 03  |  South Asia
Indian children 'malnourished'
23 Oct 02  |  South Asia

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific