India's Mid-day Meal Scheme
How can one small boy, herding cattle in a forgotten part of India, bring about monumental change in the country? The answer lies in the words he spoke.
When Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minster K. Kamaraj saw a boy near the town of Cheranmahadevi herding livestock he asked him,
“What are you doing with these cows? Why didn’t you go to school?”
The child immediately retorted, “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat."
Unknowingly, this young boy had touched on a critical problem facing the nation’s children: they cannot learn on a hungry stomach. His simple response sparked a series of events which gave rise to the Mid day Meal Scheme as it is known today. Started in the 1960s in Tamil Nadu, the programme was set up to reduce hunger and encourage universal primary education.
In November 28, 2001 the Supreme Court of India passed an order stating:
"We direct the State Governments/Union Territories to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government assisted Primary School with a prepared mid-day meal."
Objectives of the mid-day meal scheme
The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which was by then successfully implementing its own school lunch programme in Karnataka, was called in to give testimonies for verifying the efficacy of the scheme.
In order to successfully carry out this mandate, each State Government then started its own Mid-day Meal programme. Initiated by the Government of Karnataka, Akshara Dasoha is one such scheme in place.
Once started, the challenge which now faced the Government was one of successful implementation. As the guidelines for the NP-NPSE, 2006 state, wherever possible, the Government would: ‘mobilize community support and promoting public-private partnership for the programme’
Voluntary organisations such as Akshaya Patra are therefore encouraged to set up operations wherever possible. They act as the implementing arm of the government.
‘The recognition of the role of voluntary agencies in partnering government initiatives by the Centre may have had some influence in the initiatives taken by the Government of Karnataka to bring several NGOs into major government sponsored programmes’
---Karnataka Human Development Report, 2005
In fact, as the Karnataka Human Development Report 2005 explains, the Government of Karnataka was the ‘first to take this step’ of involving NGOs in development programmes. The report states that this ‘involvement of the NGOs in multilateral/bilateral programmes, raises the level of co-operations to another level. The NGOs become not only implementers; they also find a place in designing and managing programmes together with government at all levels.’
This pioneering move, by the Government of Karnataka, to make NGOs the implementing arm of the Government has been one of the major reasons for its success in attaining the goals of the programme. The achievements of these private-public partnerships have even influenced the Central Government. By setting up and encouraging private-public partnerships, the government is successfully leveraging the skills and resources of the private sector for the greater good. Today, India's mid-day meal scheme is one of the largest school lunch programme in the world, reaching out to nearly 120 million children in the country.