MP’s cutting across party lines agreeing about something, in India. Is that possible? Pigs might fly, right? Well actually, the impossible has happened, but not in the way that you or I would have imagined. The Times of India reports that 30 odd MPs from different parties have written to the Ministry of HRD to replace the present hot, cooked meals under the Mid day Meal scheme for primary school students, with – hold your breath - biscuits! (TOI, 31 December, 2007)
The Mid day Meal scheme in India covers 12 crore children in 9.5 lakh schools in the country. Hot meals, locally cooked, supervised and served is aimed at community participation as well as increased enrollment and retention of students in primary schools. What will they eat, if they go to school (and not work for thier lunch and dinner, if lucky) was the basis of launch of this scheme, which was initially launched in Tamil Nadu and later adopted by the Government of India, The ministry of HRD, to cover the rest of the country. More here.
The MDM scheme is currently Rs. 5,000 crores and as the government is looking to expand this scheme to cover 18 crore children, the budget would therefore increase too and heftily. Incidentally, (the paper reports) the argument was very similar to the Mumbai based Biscuit Manufacture Welfare Association (BMWA)’s proposal to the HRD ministry.
The arguments put forth would have been really funny (hilarious in fact), but they had me wiping tears none of which were of mirth. (TOI 31, December 2007)
Samajwadi Party's Rajya Sabha MP Abu Asim Azmi writing,"Biscuits are a healthy, packaged, nutritious product which can cover many shortcomings of the present system followed by the MDM schemes."
"Biscuits are a favourite snack of children and have a higher recall and acceptance among the intended beneficiaries of the MDMs." RPI's Ramdas Athawale
K Natwar Singh "Members of the defence services, state police, administrative personnel, farmers, all classes of professional and labourers continue their biscuit consumption habits nurtured since childhood."
There is hope yet. Many state governments have written to the ministry of HRD opposing biscuit lunch plan. (TOI January 6, 2008).
Some states have relied on the Supreme Court’s 2001 and subsequent orders that prohibit centralized purchase of food for the scheme in order to avoid corruption. It has also been argued that serving hot cooked meals ensures local community participation.
Gujrat’s reply “ Biscuit is a snack which cannot be considered as alternate to hot, cooked meal…moreover the state government prescribes a menu for the MDM scheme according to local tastes and hence biscuits cannot be provided”.
Obviously, K Natwar Singh was talking about the other states and not Gujrat.
Meghalaya, “State Government prefers the cooked midday meal as it is in line with Supreme Court direction. Also, a meal is more filling and “healthful” than biscuits. Maybe Samajwadi Party's Rajya Sabha MP Abu Asim Azmi was talking about a different biscuit.
Pondicherry provides more than the prescribed levels of nutrients through a mixed menu and therefore rejects biscuits.
AP takes the medical route saying biscuits have disproportionately high percentage of sugar and daily consumption of biscuits is likely to expose the children to risk of juvenile diabetes.
Remember what happened to a certain lady who said, “If there is no bread, let them eat cake?”…well we live in more “civilzed” times and therefore, make the proponents of biscuits for lunch eat, well, biscuits – their just desserts.