AGARTALA, Aug 2 (IANS): Quality of food, stocktaking and complaints. All these and more will soon be streamlined with the central government finalising plans for a computerised monitoring system of the midday meal scheme that reaches out to 110 million children across the country.
The world's largest school feeding programme, which covers children in 1.5 million schools and educational institutions and has helped increase literacy, will soon be more effective, promise officials.
"Of the 11 crore (110 million) school students that come under the midday meal scheme, 37 percent or four crore (40 million) children are extremely poor and belong to very needy families," Amarjit Singh, joint secretary in the human resource development (HRD) ministry, told IANS.
"To make the midday meal programme more effective and purposeful, computerised monitoring systems of the scheme are being introduced across the country," he stated.
The National Informatics Centre (NIC), under the union ministry of information technology, has developed an Integrated Voice Response System (IVRS) as a monitoring tool.
Under the new system, the teacher in-charge of the midday meal programme will feed information to the IVRS through the mobile. This information will be automatically conveyed to the district administration for appropriate action.
"The quality of food being served through the midday meal programme, checking to see whether one month stock of food is available in advance, whether there is any complaint about the scheme... it would be monitored among others under the new system," Singh said.
He said the computerised monitoring system was essential as the present manual supervision systems were not effective in the remote, backward areas of the country and in the mountainous northeastern region.
Singh was here with other senior government officials to conduct a two-day regional workshop on the midday meal programme. The workshop was attended by officials of the eight northeastern states and West Bengal.
Similar regional workshops were held in Jaipur, Hyderabad and Lucknow.
According to Singh, the midday meal programme had led to an increase in literacy in many parts of the country. Besides, the male-female gap in education had also come down to 16 percent from the earlier 25 percent.
"The scheme has been playing a significant role in maintaining national integration as well. Hundreds and thousands of children belonging to different religion, caste, class and communities are taking same meal sitting together in a row."
The central government has allocated Rs.10,380 crore for the midday meal programme. With the state's contribution, the allocation would be Rs.14,000 crore in 2011-12.
The programme was first introduced in 1925 for disadvantaged children in the Madras Municipal Corporation. By the mid-1980s, Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the union territory of Pondicherry had universalised a cooked midday meal programme with their own resources for primary school children.
By 1990-91, the number of states implementing the midday meal programme with their own resources on a large-scale basis had increased to 12.
"With a view to enhancing enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improving nutritional levels among children, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme on August 15, 1995, initially in 2408 blocks in the country. By the year 1997-98 the NP-NSPE was introduced in all blocks of the country," an official document said.
Since April 2008, the programme has been covering all children till Class 8 in government, local body and government-aided primary and upper primary schools and madrassas and maqtabs (Islamic seminaris and schools) supported under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All).