Effect of Soaring Food Prices on Mid Day Meal Scheme
By Sruti Bandyopadhyay, 22 Jan 2010

 

 

 

Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDM) is the world’s largest school-feeding programme aimed at promoting universalisation of elementary education by increasing enrolment, retention, attendance, and simultaneously impacting the nutritional status of students. It is learnt that besides rice and dal, MDM involves use of oil, vegetables, salt and spices and fuel. Keeping in view the rising cost of the commodities, effective from December 1, 2009, for primary schools the fund allocation norm for cooking costs has been increased to Rs. 2.50 per child per day(up from Rs. 1.58). For upper primary the allocation has been increased to Rs. 3.75 per child per day (up from Rs. 2.08).

However, the existing cost norms and the subsequent revision is based on overall inflation figures, not specifically on the costs of commodities used in the meals. Overall inflation statistics can hide the fluctuations in the prices of specific commodities relevant to the meal costs. The point becomes all the relevant as the country is now witnessing rising food prices despite negligible inflation. (Overall inflation is 7.31% in December)

Price rise of some essential food items (52-week period, in %)

Potatoes..................110.11
Vegetables................30.97
Pulses.................... ...42.21
Onions..................... 40.07
Milk..........................12.62
Cereals................... 13.91
Rice.........................12.91
Fruits.......................7.87

Source: (IANS), Week ended on December 26, 2009

The current procedure for revising the costing norms acts as a further roadblock to realistic pricing. Any revision needs to be approved by the EFC and the cabinet each time - after seeking comments from all relevant ministries - in a process that can take up to a year. By the time the cabinet approval is obtained, the revised norms become outdated and the exercise is redundant.

Instead, a mid-day meal pricing index which would consider fluctuations in the prices of five items essential to the scheme seems to be a better idea to tackle this soaring price inflation.

 

 

 
 
 
 
Sruti Bandyopadhyay is a Research Associate with the Accountability Initiative