The midday school program in India is one of the biggest social welfare projects in the world and reviews from time to time have brought out the stark reality about the unsatisfactory performance and less than optimum results achieved, in spite of massive public spending incurred by the country. In the US, the federal government spends about $ 2.68 (Rs 125) a day on each kid out of which the overhead expenses account for more than 65%! Compared to this, a 'princely' sum of Rs 2 per kid per day is spent in India and one can only guess what would be the 'managerial' cost in this budget which does not reach the beneficiary. The budget for 2009-10 provides Rs 8000 crore for covering 105 million children.
During the last few years many school districts in the US brought about policy changes to restrict availability of the so called junk foods in the school premises with some salutary effect."The U.S. government pays much of the bill for school food. Efforts to replace the processed and nutrition-poor foods still on many student lunch trays come with a higher price tag that many schools cannot afford. Businesses can help close the gap".
The $ 9 billion (Rs 45000 crore) outlay for school lunches in the US is not supposed to be adequate and private industry and foundations are pitching in with a view to make the lunch menu more nutritious, though such changes tend to raise the cost significantly. Many experts believe that by focusing on kids' meals by changing the nutritional quality, a country like the US can save significantly on the present annual outgo of $147 billion, being spent currently for treating obesity related illnesses in that country. Can it be true in India also? Though the gross Indian figures on expenditure are very impressive, the moot question is how many beneficiaries are really benefited by the program, with unreliable delivery system and corrupt managerial set up? A radical rethinking is called for, if 'deserving' beneficiaries are to get 'real' benefits out of the public funds funneled into this project.
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