A committee is set to review the daily cooking cost of mid-day meals served under the PM-Poshan scheme. Cooking cost gets the largest allocation among the components of the mid-day meal programme. The committee will soon be notified by the Union Ministry of Education.
Cooking cost includes the prices of ingredients such as pulses, salt, vegetables, condiments, and fuel needed to prepare cooked meals. Currently, the daily cooking cost per child in primary (classes 1-5) and upper primary (classes 6-8) is Rs 4.97 and Rs 7.45 respectively.
The decision was taken after the Finance Ministry altered the system of annual revision based on consumer price index, said sources. “Apart from chalking out a new cooking cost, and revising the methodology, the committee will look into the actual consumption of pulses and vegetables. The numbers related to cereal consumption are available since the Centre makes the entire allocation,” a source said.
The decision also assumes significance in the light of demands by food rights campaigners and development economists to raise the “inadequate” allocation per child. In 2021-22, out of its total allocation of Rs 10,233 crore for PM-Poshan, the Ministry of Education has set aside Rs 7,412 crore for cooking cost alone.
“Department of School Education and Literacy will form a committee of experts to review the components of cooking cost, formula and methodology of its revision, actual consumption, coverage etc,” the Centre communicated to the states and Union Territories on October 6 on the implementation of PM-Poshan (Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman).
A senior government official said the formation of the committee is “in the works”.
The Centre shares the daily allocation per child with states and Union Territories while contributing 100% in UTs without legislature. States and UTs that supplement the meals with additional items such as milk and eggs contribute more.
“The existing allocation is grossly inadequate. Any sensible committee will recommend that it be raised and indexed to inflation. And any sensible government will accept and implement the recommendations. The total allocation for mid-day meal is nominally lower in 2021-22 as compared to that of 2014-15 under the UPA. If one takes inflation into account, the outlay should have increased. There may have been a drop in the population of younger age groups due to dip in the fertility rate, or on account of children moving to private schools, but the budget cut still does not make sense,” IIT-Delhi Associate Professor (Economics) Reetika Khera said.
The Centre’s note to the states and UTs makes it clear that no additional budgetary allocation will be made under the scheme which covers 11.80 crore children in classes 1 to 8. It has conveyed that they will have the flexibility to create “any new intervention and increase/decrease any norm in the scheme within the approved outlay”. “The flexibility of changing the component-wise allocation within the approved outlay is given to the Programme Approval Board, which can decide on the allocation on an annual basis,” said the Centre’s note.