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The Mid-day Meals (MDM) programme in Karnataka, known as Akshara Dasoha, began in 200203, in 7 most educationally and economically backward districts, providing hot cooked meals to students studying in Class I to V. Since then, it was expanded to other districts, and made applicable to students from Class I to X, studying in government run as well as aided schools. Since 2013-14, children are also required to be provided hot milk (150 ml) 5-days in a week, under the Ksheera Bhagya scheme. These interventions aim to achieve multiple educational and nutritional objectives:
- Increasing school enrollment and attendance;
- Decreasing drop-out rates;
- Promoting good health among children through provision of nutritional food; and
- Increasing learning ability of children.
During Academic Year 2018-19, the Akshara Dasoha and Ksheera Bhagya schemes covered 54,389 educational institutions including government-run and aided lower and upper primary schools, high schools, madarasas and National Children Labour Project (NCLP) educational centers as shown in Table 1. Across these schools, 53,47,501 students are being provided hot cooked meal and hot glass of milk under Akshara Dasoha and Ksheera Bhagya respectively. About 50% of the children being covered under these schemes are studying in lower primary classes (I-V) and fall within age-group of 6-11 years. The mental, cognitive and physical growth of children in this age group depends on the nutritional intake and adequate availability of dietary protein would make the difference between these children attaining or not attaining their potential growth and development.
Table 1: No. of Schools and No. of Students included under Mid-day Meals in Karnataka for AY 2018-19
|Schools||Government||Aided||Total No. of Schools||No. of Students|
Source: Office of the Joint Director (MDM), Education Department, Govt of Karnataka.
2 Inclusion of Eggs in Akshara Dasoha
Several states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal have been providing eggs as part of their Mid-day Meals (MDM) programme. Odisha became the latest to join this group of progressive states, after the state government directed the ISKCON linked NGO Akshay Patra to provide eggs. Karnataka is the only southern Indian state not to provide eggs as part of MDM, largely because of the opposition from certain religious groups. A look at the composition of students studying in government and aided schools exposes the cultural politics behind this opposition. As Table 2 shows, about 94% students studying in schools run by government or aided by it, belong to communities, a majority of which have no objection to inclusion of eggs in MDM. Thus, the opposition of few communities against inclusion of eggs in MDM amounts to imposition of food practices of a minority on the majority and effective denial of nutrition to 94% children studying in these schools. This becomes even more clear from the data from National Family Health Survey-IV (2015-16) presented in Table 3 which shows that at least 83% of the state’s population doesn’t have any cultural or religious objections to consumption of eggs. The same data also shows that 80-85% families in Karnataka actually eat fish, chicken or other kind of meat i.e. 4 out of 5 persons in the state is not-vegetarian. One should also note that eggs are already being provided at anganwaadis to severely and acutely malnourished (SAM) children under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).
Table 2: Caste-category-wise composition of students studying in Government and Aided Schools in AY 2016-17
|Lower Primary (1-5)||5.40%||25.15%||10.70%||58.75%|
|Higher Primary (6-8)||6.11%||23.92%||9.76%||60.20%|
|High School (9-10)||8.42%||21.72%||8.55%||61.31%|
Source: UDISE Report for the year 2016-17 (Karnataka).
Note: These statistics pertain to schools run by Education Department, Social Welfare Department, Local Bodies and Private aided schools.
Table 3: Pattern of Consumption of Specific Food Items in Karnataka
|Type of Food||Frequency of Consumption of Type of Food|
|Chicken or Meat||2.9||47.8||28.0||21.3|
|Fish or chicken or meat||6.2||51.0||23.1||19.7|
|Chicken or Meat||6.4||51.2||27.9||14.5|
|Fish or chicken or meat||9.4||52.3||24.8||13.5|
Source: NFHS-IV (2015-16), State Report: Karnataka, Table 69, pg 120.
In Table 4, we provide estimates of the budgetary allocations which will be required depending on the number of eggs supplied per week. States like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh whose budgetary resource position is comparable to Karnataka, provide 5 eggs per week and even less resourceful states like Jharkhand are providing 3 eggs per week. Accounting for 5% administrative expenditure, and assuming 44 weeks of schooling period in a year, at Rs 5 per egg, we estimate a budgetary allocation of 370 crores for 3 eggs per week provisioning and 617 crores for 5 eggs per week provisioning. To put these figures in perspective, the budgetary allocations for providing 5 eggs comprises 2.32% of the total education department budget for FY 2018-19; 0.32% of the total state budget expenditure for FY 2018-19 and 0.05% of Gross State Dosmestic Product. Is this too big a price for a better nutritional future for children from margininalized communities?
Table 4: Estimated Budgetary Allocation for Provisioning of Eggs
|Class||No. of Students||Budgetary Allocation (in Lakhs Rs.)|
|3 eggs per week||5 eggs per week|
|Administrative Exp (@5%)||1,765||2,941|
|As percentage of Education Department Budgeted
Expenditure 2018-19 (%)
|As percentage of Total State Budgeted Expenditure
|As percentage of GSDP 2017-18 (Advance Estimate)
 Indiaspend.com, BJP States Most Resistant To Eggs In Mid-Day Meals, Cite Vegetarian Sentiments , July 31, 2018.
 Scroll.in, Odisha finds a way to serve children eggs at mid-day meals catered by ISKCON-linked NGO , Dec 16, 2018.
Note prepared by Siddharth KJ