Malnutrition in Karnataka is a serious crisis. It affects the child’s growth, health, ability to concentrate and resistance to infection. The vicious cycle of malnutrition and infection pushes the child constantly into ill-health and risk of death. The statistics of malnutrition in Karnataka is dismal, with an alarming number of children who are shorter, thinner and weighing less than what is ideal (Table 1)-4th National Family Health Survey (NFHS) (2015-16).
|Table 1: Nutrition indicators in Karnataka (2015-16) among Children < 5 years
|Caste/tribe/religion||Stunting (Ht for age < 2 SD)||Underweight (Weight for age <2 SD)|
The negative consequences continue into adulthood. This is a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution – the fundamental right to life. To deal with the crisis of malnutrition, the Supreme Court had ordered that Mid-day meals be introduced in all schools and subsequently, in 2013 the National Food Security Act (NFSA) was passed by the Parliament to give each child an entitlement to a hot nutritious freshly cooked meal at government schools. As per the standards prescribed in NFSA, each child is entitled to a meal providing prescribed amount of calories and proteins as shown in Table 2. To meet these nutritional standards, quantities of ingredients to be used has also been prescribed. 100 gm of rice for primary classes (I-V) and 150 gm for upper primary classes should be used for cooking. The government becomes liable if it fails to meet the nutritional standards of the mid-day meal as legally mandated by the National Food Security Act, 2013.
Table 2: Nutritional Standards for Mid-day Meal Scheme
|Calories (Kcal)||Proteins (gm)||Quantity of Cereals (gm)|
Mid-day Meals Scheme in Karnataka
In Karnataka the Mid-day meals scheme began in 2002-03 and was extended to all government-run and government-aided schools (Class I-X) over the last 15 years. In 2013-14, Karnataka government started the Ksheera Bhagya scheme as part of which one glass of hot milk (150 ml) is to be provided to the children. In year 2018-19, the Mid-day meal and Ksheera Bhagya scheme covered 54,839 schools and centers, reaching out to 53,47,501 students.
Fact-finding to Schools in Karnataka
Since November 2018, The Karnataka State Food Commission had been raising issued regarding Akshaya Patra Foundation’s failure to comply with the State government prescribed menu which requires them to include onion and garlic; bland and monotonous taste of the food leading to low consumption and wastage and failure to supply hot milk. Additionally, while all South India states have been providing eggs in their mid-day meals scheme, due to opposition from a minority, a large majority has been deprived of eggs in mid-day meals in Karnataka, despite a long-standing demand from parents and children. To assess the effectiveness of Mid-day meals scheme in Karnataka, different groups visited 31 schools across 5 districts in Karnataka, including those where the food is being supplied by Akshaya Patra Foundation (Annexure 1). The schools visited were a mix of those being supplied through centralized kitchens and those where the food is being cooked at the premises. Apart from visiting the schools and talking to teachers and headmasters/headmistresses, the teams also spoke to children and their parents – the primary stakeholders in the scheme. The report provides key observations from the visits and then makes recommendations based on those observations.
The students studying in the schools we visited, overwhelmingly came from Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and religious minorities communities. Since the mid-day meals scheme is meant to meet nutritional requirements of the children studying in government schools, its is their food preferences that should determine the design of the meals.
Consumption and Wastage: Across most of the schools we visited, we found that children were eating less than the prescribed quantity of food (Table 2). Because of the lower consumption by children, either less quantity of food was being supplied or cooked, or it was being wasted by children. The consumption varied from 60%-80% on the day of the visit. This is the biggest failure of the scheme. The mid-day meal is designed to provide one-third of daily dietary requirement for children. If children are eating less, than they are getting less nutrition, which is a violation of their entitlement under National Food Security Act 2013. The lower consumption was due to the quality of rice, the lack of diversity in the menu and the lack of taste and freshness in the meals. In general, the consumption of food was higher in schools where the food was being cooked at the school premises and served hot and fresh to the students. In the schools in Chitradurga for example, the consumption was found to be around 80-85% and there was less wastage of food. In Bengaluru, on the day of the visit to Tamil School in Austin Town, half of the rice supplied by Akshaya Patra was left unconsumed by the children. Similarly, in the Boys High School at Austin Town, the serving staff informed us that when 1.5 box of rice is supplied, it goes to waste, so the supplying organization (Akshaya Patra) has started supplying 1.25 boxes. According to her, “Children don’t like the food that much and so they waste it if you give more. They should put onion and garlic in food.” Similarly, parents at schools in Chamarajanagara said that their children do not like the food being served by JSS Matha and they eat very little at the schools. In Anekal, the feedback from the Govt Urdu school was that ‘the food is not according to the taste children are used to at homes. The Bisibele bath is not tasty and sambar is watery’.
Meal Diversity and Meal Taste: The primary reason for eating less was the lack of diversity in the food being supplied and the taste of the meal. The menu prescribed by the government is heavily biased-towards cereal-based and vegetarian food items. Some organizations like Akshaya Patra are not even following this minimal requirements. Because of their religious beliefs, Akshaya Patra is not adding onion and garlic to the food, even though all the children we spoke to said they had no problems with these ingredients and many said they would like the food more if onion and garlic are added. Imposing religious agenda through Mid-day meal scheme is in violation of guidelines issued under the National Food Security Act, and is violation of constitutional norms as well. During our visits to Akshaya Patra schools, we found that Akshaya Patra was still not following the government prescribed menu. In general, because of lack of enforcement of the menu by the government, NGOs are supplying food as per their own preferences and practices, as opposed to those of children or those prescribed by the State government.
In Chikkamangaluru district, several parents suggested inclusion of ragi mudde in the menu along with fruits. The suggestion for inclusion of fruits was a very common demand, and its inclusion would definitely increase both the diversity and consumption of the meals. For these improvements, the existing cooking cost per meal (Rs 4.13 for primary and Rs 6.18 for upper primary) being given by government are not enough. With such low cost allocations, many organizations supply only one kind of vegetable throughout the week because they are the cheapest in the market. These costs needs to be increased to Rs 12 per meal as is the case for Anganwaadis, keeping in mind that school-going children need more energy and nutrition. In Chikkamangaluru, parents also wanted kitchen-gardens to be developed so that locally grown vegetables can be used for cooking.
Provision of Eggs: One of the suggestions that was consistently made by children and their parents for improvement in the scheme was inclusion of eggs in the meals. A majority of children studying in the schools visited find eggs culturally acceptable and tasty. As per the Indian Food Composition Tables published by the National Institute of Nutrition, one whole egg (60 gm) provides 8 grams of protein and 100 kilocalories of energy as well as most of the other vitamins and minerals required for proper functioning of the body—except for Vitamin C. The proteins provided by eggs are of superior biological value and can address many of the nutritional issues faced by children. Thus, eggs will be nutritious addition to the meals, something that children will like and eat with interest.
Quality of Rice: Most students and parents, complained about the quality of rice being supplied in the meals. But such complaints, were more pronounced in Akshaya Patra schools. Although the same rice is being used by schools and NGOs, the Akshaya Patra rice when cooked specially becomes lumpy and dry and can be consumed only in limited quantity. In one school in Bengaluru for example, children couldn’t eat the food served to them fully and wanted to throw large quantities of rice but had to be forced by teachers to finish. Even after this, half of the rice supplied for the day, was left unconsumed.
Ksheera Bhagya: In Chitradurga district, in one school, the milk was being supplied only on alternate days. In Bengaluru, in the schools we visited, Akshaya Patra is supplying cold milk, despite several complaints from the State Food Commission.
Discontinuance of Centralized Kitchens: A comparative analysis of the school-based local kitchens shows and centralized kitchens shows that if sufficient budget is provided and adequate school-level supervision is maintained, then school-based kitchens perform much better in terms of consumption by children. In terms of taste and freshness, school-based cooking performs far better than centralized kitchens. Thus, centralized kitchens need to be phased out and replaced by school-based kitchens. Even in Bengaluru, many schools where MDM has been centralized, there is more than enough space for local cooking and thus school-based kitchens are feasible. Wherever, space constraints do not allow for school-based kitchens, the contracts can be given to small-scale Self-Help Groups. But for this to work effectively, adequate staff and budget has to be allocated, so that teachers are not diverted from their teaching responsibilities, which is the biggest reason why current school staff prefers centralized kitchens now.
- Given the nutritional superiority of eggs, and the preference expressed by children and parents for their inclusion, eggs should be provided to children as part of MDM on all days of the week. Children who don’t eat eggs to be given a fruit such as banana, papaya, guava.
- Kitchens should be set up at the individual schools. If there is a space constraint then the contract should be handed to small-scale self-help groups of trained women. The MDM should have no room for NGOs and corporates as it doesn’t allow for local employment of women, use of local, culturally relevant ingredients and for local economy to improve.
- Most schools show low consumption patterns. This should be addressed by revisiting the prescribed menu and inclusion of items like fresh fruits and ragi mudde in the meals.
- All contractors should be monitored to follow prescribed menu and improve taste of the food. This is of particular concern with APF and their refusal to use onion and garlic as prescribed in the menu. Onions and garlic have also been shown by research to improve the absorption of iron and zinc from food. They are also part of the eating culture of people in Karnataka. As prescribed in the mid-day meal guidelines, the mid-day meal should not be used for any kind of religious propaganda.
- The cost per meal under MDM should be increased to Rs 12 per meal to match those for Anganwaadis. Additionally, the remuneration for the cooks and helpers should also be increased to prescribed minimum wages.
- In schools with land in the premises, kitchen gardens should be promoted and the vegetables and fruits grown there should be used for the MDM.
- Although the HRD ministry has praised the Ksheera Bhagya scheme which provides 150 ml of milk to school children on 5 days of the week, the quality of the scheme needs improvement. APF is still supplying only cold milk to the children. Milk provided should be reconstituted at the school.
- A circular should be issued by the state government strictly banning lobbying by NGO contractors to cancel existing school based meals and those with other NGOs.
- To conduct regular evaluations and social audits in consultation with parents and children and make these publicly available.
Fact-Finding Team: Karthik Ranganathan, Gee Imaan Semmalar, Sonali, Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, Mamata (Hejje), C Neeliah (Action Aid), Narsimappa TV (Alternate Law Forum), Vishesh Guru, Alwyn Dsouza(Indian Social Institute), Siddharth Joshi, Madhu (Janwaadi Seva Kendra)
Annexure 1: List of Schools visited by the Fact-finding Team
|S. No.||Location||MDM supplied by|
|1||BBMP High school and junior college, Bangalore urban||Akshaya Patra Foundation|
|2||Govt. Tamil HPS School, Bangalore urban||Akshaya Patra Foundation|
|3||Government Urdu Primary School, Bangalore Urban||Akshaya Patra Foundation|
|4||Government Model Tamil Primary School, Bangalore Urban||Akshaya Patra Foundation|
|5||Kannada Primary and Secondary School, Bangalore Urban||Akshaya Patra Foundation|
|6||Government Girls School, Anekal||Pragathi Foundation|
|7||Government Middle School, Anekal||School Based|
|8||Govt Urdu School, Anekal||Pragathi Foundation|
|9||Government Primary School, Narayanpura, Anekal||Pragathi Foundation|
|10||Government Old Model Middle School, Anekal||School Based|
|11||Govt School, Bheemanakoppa, H D Kote, Mysuru||School based|
|12||Govt School, Mastihalli, H D Kote, Mysuru||School based|
|13||Govt School, Mastigudi, H D Kote, Mysuru||School based|
|14||Govt School, Bheenakoppa, HD Kote Taluka||School based|
|15||Govt School, Yellandur taluk, Chamarajnagar||JSS matta|
|16||Govt school, Hiriyur Taluka||School based|
|17||Govt. School, Chalakere (1)||School based|
|18||Govt school, Chalakere (2)||School based|
|19||Govt school, Chalakere (3)||School based|
|20||Govt school, Chalakere (4)||School based|
|21||Govt school, Molkalmur (1)||School based|
|22||Govt school, Molkalmur (2)||School based|
|23||Govt school, Chitradurga (1)||School based|
|24||Govt school, Chitradurga (2)||School based|
|25||Govt school, Chitradurga (3)||School based|
|26||Government School, Begur Thanda, Ajjampura||School based|
|27||Government School, Muguli village, Ajjampura||School based|
|28||Government School, Sollapura village, Ajjampura||School based|
|29||Government School, Heggadehall village, Ajjampura||School based|
|30||Government School, Sokke village, Ajjampura||School based|
|31||Government School, Chennapura village, Ajjampura||School based|