Comptroller & Auditor General of India Report on Nutrional Support To Primary Education



34. The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education was launched in 1995 (NSPE review, para 1.1). It consolidated earlier efforts to provide the mid-day meal in primary schools to supplement nutrition for children in the age group 5-9 years. By doing so it was hoped school enrolment would increase and drop out rate would decline. Since 17 states were implementing a mid-day meal scheme by 1990-91, Central Government would provide commodity support. The money saved by state governments could be used for other primary education programmes. In other words FCI would supply food grains and be paid for by the Central Government. Expenses thereafter including cooking would be met by the state governments.

35. Since 1995-96 Central Government has been unable to adequately fund the scheme. Government of India had been able to meet only about 50% of the finances necessary to get food grains required to feed all the primary school children. Over Rs 800 crore of FCI bills remain outstanding; and, all in all, Government of India has bitten much more than it could chew. On the basis of food grains lifted at best 60% and at worst 30% of student could be covered; alternatively, 30-60% requirement of food grains was met (NSPE review, para 5). The FCI linkage led to such a complex administrative arrangement that state governments were unable to lift allocations and lifted on an average 1.17 kg. (NSPE review, para 5.1)per student vis--vis the 3 kg. prescribed under the scheme. As is usual with these arrangements there were considerable leakages between the FCI godown and the primary school, the same as noticed in other schemes. Excess transport charges were the favoured technique employed in these arrangements. Evidence from all the states showed that the arrangements made were abused in every form. Abuses in the scheme at the states apparently grew as the Government of India assumed increasing financial liability.

36. Supply of cooked food within two years was crucial for the programme; arguably it would attract enrolment and motivate continuance. By March 1999 only five states viz., Gujarat, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, were doing so. And this was no real achievement because in those states the scheme existed prior to 1995. Overall, 22% of the children were provided cooked meals. In some states food supplied was of inferior quality. For the rest of the States continued distribution of food grains permitted since inception of the scheme in 1995.

37. Not surprisingly the assumed impact of the scheme did not emerge (NSPE review, para 9). Even in the Union territory of Chandigarh the enrolment figures declined between 1995-96 and 1998-99. The other objective of the Scheme was improved retention and better attendance. The scheme required 80% attendance for food grain eligibility. Of the 31 States and Union Territories, only 8 followed this criterion, thereby defeating a key objective of the scheme. In any case the scheme seems to have had little impact on school attendance.

38. The Management Information System (NSPE review, para 10.2) for this elaborate scheme remains to take hold. There is wide divergence between information reported by the states and by Human Resources Department. While the HRD information is incomplete, that compiled in the states is not verifiable as disaggregated information, such as on distribution of food grains, is not maintained (NSPE review, para 10). HRD was unaware that the computerised Management Information System developed by NIC was not in operation in the states.

39. The ultimate failure of the programme was in not achieving set goals. Enrolment declined instead of increasing in Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab and Sikkim. Retention dropped as dropout rate shot up. Even the nutrition supplement dropped from 2 kgs/student/month to 1.17 kgs/student/ month during 1995-99. All in all the performance declined with shift of programme ownership from the States to the Central Government.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS



56. The scheme of supply of cooked mid-day meal to the students of class 1 to 5 remained a non-starter. Most of the students in the entitled group either were not covered or were not provided cooked meal. The programme suffered from design defect of cumbersome procedure for provision of cooked meal. The responsibilities and source of funding of ingredients of the cooked meal rested on many functionaries/ agencies. Besides, the Ministry could never ensure the budget provision required to cover all students in the prescribed age group.

57. No systematic data was collected on the improvement of nutritional status of the students, even where the programme was run. Thus, not only the scheme failed to realise its primary objective of improving the nutritional status of the students, the secondary objectives of promoting the universalisation of primary education and reducing the drop-outs with help of mid-day meals also suffered.

58. Government should shift to supply of ‘Ready To Eat’ food, rather than persisting with supply of hot cooked meal by developing sources for preparation and supply of such foods on the basis of local tastes. Central control should be dispensed with in favour of local control with rigid regimen of monitoring, transparency and accountability systems and procedures.

Copy Right: CAG, Government of India, New Delhi.

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