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Government rankings of states' performance on mid-day meals offer insights on what works best.
There has been introspection about the design and implementation of the mid-day meal scheme in the wake of the Gandaman tragedy in Bihar in July this year, when 23 children, aged between four and 12, died after consuming contaminated food at school. Questions over whether the state is capable of delivering nutritious and hygienic lunches, especially in villages and districts with bad roads and no cold storage facilities, have led to stakeholders re-examining the functioning — even the feasibility — of the scheme across the country. In this context, the first-time ranking of states by the Union ministry of human resource development on the basis of their performance in implementing the mid-day meal scheme, offers some surprising results.
Karnataka comes out on top, and Bihar, despite the relatively recent revival of its primary school system, is at number five. Tamil Nadu, where the national template of the mid-day meal programme originated, has underperformed. And Delhi, despite its high visibility, was at the bottom, with dismal scores in funds utilisation and the infrastructure and health categories. Unpacking the data on state performance should focus attention on what works and what doesn't, in a scheme that has a proven effect in increasing enrolment of students. For instance, most states do poorly in the monitoring and supervision category. Even Tamil Nadu, with its much-vaunted local administrative structures and dedicated district officials to monitor implementation, scores abysmally low. But the rankings also confirm that the experience of mid-day meals varies widely across India.