In Drought-Hit UP District, Mid-Day Meals for School Children Vanish

lalitpur school
School children make an appeal to the Uttar Pradesh chief minister for their mid-day meal.

LALITPUR: : At the government primary school of Bhadrona in Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, the school bell is a cruel reminder for children that no lunch will be served. For the past month, several schools in the drought-ravaged region say they have stopped serving mid-day meals to students.

For the children, whose families are struggling with lost crop and deep debt and for whom a hot lunch is the highlight of school day, this is yet another betrayal. A menu painted on the wall lists what will be served. But there is no milk, not even dal-chawal or lentil-rice for them.

“I loved terai ( soya nuggets). I want it back, all my food,” said a Class 5 student. “We can’t study well for so long without eating food,” added another. The children issued an appeal through NDTV asking the government to restore the mid-day meal at their school.

They start their day at 9 am and stay in school till 3 pm, and the schools say many are now going home for lunch and then not bothering to return.

Also, in a school of 150, 50 students have dropped out. Policy-makers have often listed mid-day meals as a major incentive for children to attend school in many parts of the country.
The Lalitpur schools that this reporter visited said they began receiving half the ration they usually do from their local supplier in November last year and by January this year, supplies had stopped completely.

“I called them and they said ration nahi aa raha (they have received no ration),” said Sunita Devi, the headmistress of the Bhadrona primary school.

Lalitpur is part of the Bundelkhand region, which is half in Uttar Pradesh and half in Madhya Pradesh and is reeling under a severe drought. Many children in the area get nutritious and expensive food like dal only in school since their poor parents get only rice or wheat under food security or PDS schemes. For many, the mid-day meal at school is the main meal of the day.

Uttar Pradesh was among several states that told the Supreme Court last week that the mid-day meal is an important tool for providing relief in their drought-hit areas. They claimed children were getting milk once a week and meals were being cooked even on holidays.

NDTV asked senior bureaucrats of the area about the missing meals, but they did not respond. The state government, however, tweeted to say it would investigate the matter and run a special campaign to assure ration is moved swiftly.

The Supreme Court is hearing a public interest litigation filed by activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan, asking drought-affected states to take emergency measures.

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