28 Dec 2020 6:56 AM GMT
The concept of mid-day meal was first brought forward by the state of Tamil Nadu, which, at present is doing their best to regulate the mechanism accordingly. Despite of having a National Legislation on Food Security and rules of Mid-day meal, most of the States have failed to provide the children with even minimum distribution of food. Ironically, Section 2(c) defines the term 'food'...
The concept of mid-day meal was first brought forward by the state of Tamil Nadu, which, at present is doing their best to regulate the mechanism accordingly. Despite of having a National Legislation on Food Security and rules of Mid-day meal, most of the States have failed to provide the children with even minimum distribution of food. Ironically, Section 2(c) defines the term 'food' as 'hot cooked meal' but reality is contrary, because forget cooked, there are reports which reflect that authorities are delivering 'raw' material to the families in leu of the scheme. Section 5 of the National Food Security Act, 2013 reads out that children, up to class VIII or within the age group of six to fourteen years, whichever is applicable, one mid-day meal, free of charge, everyday, except on school holidays, in all schools run by local bodies, Government and Government aided schools, so as to meet the nutritional standards. Furthermore, Section 6 of the Act directs the State authorities to identify and provide free meals to children who are suffering from malnutrition, so as to meet the nutritional standards.
In India, we have enough statutes, rights and principles on paper but when we talk about implementation, then the authorities are lacking behind. It is pertinent to note that such schemes are being implemented in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Lucknow but these are some of the areas where people are adapted with the Urban culture, but the majority of the population which is in need of such schemes and policies are either unaware or neglected under the garb of 'minimal satisfaction'. One such place is Bihar, where the drop-out and malnutrition rate is at peak, during the Lockdown, a lot has happened and most of the schools have complained that no food is being supplied to them. A report was published by Indian Express where the residents of Badbilla, Bihar told them that they have received no help from the authorities and their claim is totally false, that funds are being processed.
Now, if we refer to Section 5(2) of the ,The Mid-Day Meal Rules, 2015 it states that every school shall have the facility for cooking meal in hygienic manner. Schools in urban area may use the facility of centralised kitchens for cooking meals wherever required in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Central Government and the meal shall be served to the children at respective school only. But on the other side of the table, some children are being denied this basic facility, forget centralised kitchens, there are places in Bihar where the Mahadalit (marginalised sections among the Scheduled Castes of Bihar) families in Badbilla Mushari Tola of Bhagalpur have been facing a crisis, and it was reported by India Today that children were forced to beg/sell junk food for living.
The courts and the pandemic
It is notable that during the Lockdown many states have restricted the distribution of food in the light of these schemes. There have been various reports which reflected the plight of children during these tough times. The Hon'ble Supreme Court in In Re : Regarding Closure of Mid-Day Meal Scheme, directed various States to come up with a National Policy to tackle the situation, the court observed that: "The mid-day meal scheme under which nutritional food is supplied to the children undertaking education is implemented through various schools in the States. The Anganwadis, in addition to supplying nutritional food, also implement the scheme of providing nutritional food to the lactating and nursing mothers. It is reported, that in some districts, though the schools and Anganwadis have been shut down, the parents have been told to pick up nutritional food for their children from such centres. Non-supply of nutritional food to the children as well as lactating and nursing mothers may lead to large-scale malnourishment. Particularly, the children and the lactating and nursing mothers in rural as well as tribal area are prone to such mal-nourishment. Such mal-nutrition may affect their immunity system and as such, such children and lactating and nursing mothers would be more prone to catch the infection. While dealing with one crisis, the situation may not lead to creation of another crisis
During the Lockdown many states have restrained from distributing food or security, whatsoever is required. Now, if we refer to Section 24 clause (4), in case if the government fails to supply food then a compensation is awarded to these children. Clause 4 reads out that: In case of non-supply of the entitled quantities of food-grains or meals to entitled persons under Chapter II, the State Government shall be responsible for payment of food security allowance. In this backdrop the Karnataka High Court, which dealing with a case in which the Petitioners had claimed for compensation in leu of Section 24 of the Food Security Act, for the school children who were being neglected by the State officials. The court while directing the State to file an Affidavit in that regard observed: "The affidavit shall state in what manner and within what period each and every student who is entitled to the benefit of Mid-day meal scheme will be compensated. He will also state in what manner the legal obligation will be complied with by providing either mid-day meal or food grains to each and every student. Considering the default, we expect the State Government to give a clear assurance about all the aforesaid aspects. Such affidavit shall be filed by the Secretary by 17th November 2020. In the affidavit, the Secretary will also set out the steps taken by the State Government to implement the provisions of the said Rules of 2015 and especially during the present pandemic."
Another State, where the crisis of Mid-day meal is being witnessed is Gujarat. A survey was conducted by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) and the UNICEF Gujarat revealed that among the households which had children enrolled in the Government schools, 85 per cent of the parents reported that they were not able to access anything in lieu of the mid-day meals since March, when the schools were closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Gujarat High Court took suo motto cognizance of the plight of these children who were being neglected these basic essentials. The court in, Suo Moto v. State of Gujarat , directed the State government to take stringent actions against the half-hearted implementation, it was observed that -- this Court is of the view that the attention of the State Government should be immediately drawn to the aforesaid, and in such circumstances, we deem fit to take suo motu cognizance of the above in public interest.
In Uttar Pradesh, practices like Child labour, forced labour practices have been reported repeatedly. The Allahabad High Court in Chandrawati Devi v. State of Uttar Pradesh, was dealing with a case where an old cook was thrown out by the authorities after serving the department for more than 14 years. She used to cook for the children for Mid-day meals, and for that she was paid only Rs. 1,000 per month. The High Court came down heavily on the authorities and observed: The present case highlights the manner in which the practice of Forced Labour is prevalent in the country even after 70 years of independence and the helpless people similar to the petitioner continue to suffer the exploitation willingly. Part III of the Constitution of India provides for the freedoms to which are guaranteed to every citizen of this country . The present case is specifically concerned with Article 14, Article 21 and Article 23 of the Constitution of India, more particularly Article 23 .In the context of the facts of the present case what is to be considered is that whether the payment of wages at the rate of Rs. 1,000/- per month is an other form of Forced Labour as barred by virtue of Article 23 of the Constitution of India or not.
It is pertinent to refer what the Hon'ble Supreme Court had observed in People's Union For Democratic Rights and Others v. Union of India and Others; (1982) 3 SCC 235:
"14.Now the next question that arises for consideration is whether there is any breach of Article 23 when a person provides labour or service to the State or to any other person and is paid less than the minimum wage for it. It is obvious that ordinarily no one would willingly supply labour or service to another for less than the minimum wage, when he knows that under the law he is entitled to get minimum wage for the labour or service provided by him. It may therefore be legitimately presumed that when a person provides labour or service to another against receipt of remuneration which is less than the minimum wage, he is acting under the force of some compulsion which drives him to work though he is paid less than what he is entitled under law to receive. What Article 23 prohibits is "forced labour" that is labour or service which a person is forced to provide and "force" which would make such labour or service "forced labour" may arise in several ways. It may be physical force which may compel a person to provide labour or service to another or it may be force exerted through a legal provision such as a provision for imprisonment or fine in case the employee fails to provide labour or service or it may even be compulsion arising from hunger and poverty, want and destitution
A National Policy with swift implementation is the need of the hour
It is well established fact that hunger may compel a person to do anything, whether its an offence or forced labour. Evils like Child labour is fairly visible, in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra, despite of the fact that there are enough statutes to curb these practices. There was a report which reflected the condition of child labour in Uttar Pradesh, where most of the students were not even aware about the compulsory education schemes, and more importantly it was observed that most of these poor students were attracted towards education because there was the concept of 'mid-day' meal, but at present when most of the States are not delivering their promises then it blatantly violates the norms of natural justice & equality.
SCHEDULE II of the National Food Security Act, 2013 under the pursuance of Section 4(a) and 5 lays down certain basic standards which have to provided by the State.
Type of meal
Children (6 months to 3 years)
Take Home Ration
Children (3 to 6 years)
Morning Snack and Hot Cooked Meal
Children (6 months to 6 years) who are malnourished
Lower primary classes
Hot Cooked Meal
Upper primary classes
Pregnant women and Lactating mothers
At present, we need a National Policy which can be implemented by the Central Government, but it would be incomplete without a) advertisement b) implementation and c) food nutrition which has to be supplied whole hearted-ly, not half-hearted-ly. Right to compulsory education and food is an essential facet of Article 21, which has to be regulated by the government irrespective of their political manifestos/agendas. To conclude, it is pertinent to note that we have enough statutes/legislations but at present it is necessary to realize that - legislations must be great, rather than being long.
Views are personal.