Midday meals provided to students of schools should be mandatorily tested by accredited labs each month for quality and nutrition under new rules notified by the government which will also make available an allowance if food is not given.
The move for tests came against the backdrop of frequent complaints of sub-standard food being distributed under the mid-day meal programme that covers roughly 10.5 crore students across the country. The Mid-Day Meal Rules, 2015, notified yesterday under the Food Security Act 2013, also seeks to fix responsibility on persons for non-supply of food for three consecutive school
days or five days in a month.
It also seeks to improve efficiency in implementation by plugging loopholes, check irregularities and ensure quality of food served, officials in HRD Ministry said on Thursday. Testing of the meals by accredited labs has been made mandatory under the new rules to ensure nutritional standards. Hot cooked meal provided to children will be evaluated and certified by the government food research laboratory or any laboratory accredited or recognised by law so as to ensure that the meal meets with the nutritional standards and quality.
The Food and Drugs Administration department of the state will be engaged to collect samples to ensure the nutritive value and quality of the meals. The samples will be collected at least once a month from randomly selected schools or centralised kitchens and sent for examination to the laboratories, the rules state. On the Food Security Allowance, it says, "If midday meal is not provided in school on any school-day due to non-availability of food grains, cooking cost, fuel or absence of cook-cum-helper or any other reason, the State Government shall pay Food Security Allowance by 15th of the succeeding month."
The allowance will be fixed based on quantity of food grain supplied as per entitlement of a child and the cooking cost prevailing in the state. In case of non-supply of meal by the centralised kitchen, food security allowance will be realised from the centralised kitchen, the rules say. However, if a child has not taken food on offer for whatever reasons, no claim of food security allowance shall lie with the state government or centralised kitchens.
The rules say that "the state government shall take action to fix responsibility on the person or agency in accordance with the procedure laid down, if mid-day meal is not provided in school on school days continuously for three days or at least for five days in a month". The headmaster or headmistress of the school will be empowered to utilise any fund available in school for continuation of the midday meal programme in case of temporary unavailability of food grains, cooking cost etc.
"The utilised fund shall be reimbursed to the school account immediately after receipt of mid day meal funds," the rules said.
Keeping in mind that unhygenic conditions have proved counter productive to the programme, the rules state that every school shall have the facility for cooking meals in hygienic manner.