India’s Tiffin Service for its Primary School Kids

Thought Leader: Seema Sirohi


One of the flagship programmes started to achieve the goal for education for all, India’s Mid-Day Meal is one of the largest school lunch programme in the world. This programmes currently reaches 12 crore children in 9.5 schools (MHRD, 2014). Mid-Day Meal is expansion scheme of ‘National Programme for Nutritional Support for Primary Education (NP-SPE), which aims to address a vital problem of children health and education.

The program seeks to address different problem areas which were considered as a hindrance in education for example issues like malnutrition, anaemia, and deficiency of vitamins and iodine. This program was considered as one of the solution to the alarming facts emerging in the popular media where reports were showing 94% of the children in the age group of 6 to 9 were suffering from severely, moderately and mildly underweight. Enrollment retention and regularity of the children were seen as natural fallout of their bad health.

Under the scheme, the children were given free supply of 100 grams of food grain per child per day. The state government were required to meet the costs of the infrastructure and cooking cost. Initially, the scheme was introduced in the targeted 1368 blocks where the employment guarantee schemes (EGS) were being implemented and forty low female literacy (LFL) blocks all over India. Local bodies were declared to be implementing agencies and states has to formulate guidelines for their respective state. However with the initial success of the program, the government of the different state as well as centre were in pressure and encouraged to implement this program in all the state in all blocks.

Historical trajectory of the program:

Though the program first time was mandated by the central government in 1995 but this program has a considerable long history in Indian policy. Aiyar, (2008) calls this program is one of the best grass root solution emerged as a product of federal polity in India but also indicated towards of unfortunate polity to launch it earlier across country. This program can be trace from pre-independence era where in 1925 and 1930 under British and French government this scheme was being implemented in some parts of these two foreign administrative units.

This scheme then introduced first time in independent India by K Kamraj in Chennai and later on expanded by MGR government in rest of the states. The program was not only appreciated but got popularity in different states too. In 1984 Gujarat government also started providing lunch schemes. By 1990 different states started implementing this scheme taking different national and international agencies and some of the states like Karnataka, Orissa and West Bengal are totally funded by international agencies. In 1995 congress government made it a policy mandate for all states but in 2001 Supreme Court issues guidelines in response to PIL (Public interest litigation) in the case of People Union for Civil Liberties v/s Union of India popularly known as Right to food Case. After this case provision of serving cooked food as part of school lunch became mandatory for all the states. Following the guideline and demand for this program Union Minister of Finance have declared in 2006 extra monetary fund to implement this scheme throughout the states.

Essential of the Mid-Day Meal program: this scheme mandated states to take responsibility with central government to implement this program. Here is the table which presents the division of responsibility centre and state share to implement the program.

Centre Assistance State and UT responsibilities
Supply free food grains 100g per child per day Timely flow of funds
Reimbursement actual cost of transportation subject to ceiling Safety specification for construction cum stores
Provide assistance for cooking cost provided state government provides the minimum cost Establishing system for flow of food grains, to all eligible schools
Construction of kitchen cum store in a phased manner by giving 60k per schools Ensuring logistics for serving food, construction of infrastructure
Providing and reimbursement of kitchen device at an average of 5k Formulating guidelines to facilitate people’s participation in voluntary agencies
Providing assistance for management, monitoring and evaluation
Convergence with development programs for infrastructure

Though the responsibilities are clearly defined between the implementation differs in different states depending on the implementation framework the state create and the level of infrastructure already existing. Mid-Day Meal scheme fund minimum proportion is divided in to 75:25 ratios for centre government and state government respectively. But it varies from State to State some State like Meghalaya where Centre and State share funds in 90:10 ratios respectively. Implementation also varies because of the different department being a part to implement mid-day meal schemes. Table below showcase the distribution of the fund across different department.


Implementation structure and implementation framework analysis:

As mentioned above different states have different infrastructure structure depending on the resources, geographic realities.  Because the ground realities changes for most of the states I have taken centre (State) as a unit of analysis in this framework.


The implementation framework keeping Centre as unit for analysis for this program is top down approach where this scheme is formulated and implemented according to centre guidelines. Pressman and Wildavsky, (1973) defines top down approach of implementation based on three characteristics a)linkages between different organisation and local levels, b) action depends on number of links in implementation chain requiring high degree of cooperation, c) a number of small deficit will lead to a large shortfall. In the case of Mid-Day Meal linkages exists between different organizations and departments at local level. The numbers of departments at play at the grassroots level are many. They include the school, NGOs in a lot of cases and PDS shops. This essentially means the success of the implementation heavily depends on the cooperation of these departments. And each department in play has a hierarchy of players involved. For example, the school includes the head teacher, teachers the cook and so on. And this just reiterates the point of degree of cooperation that is required for a smooth implementation. Midday meal being a daily affair even a small shortfall cumulatively leads to a large loss which he calls the implementation deficit.

The effect of non-statutory variables is quite high in the implementation process. Like time spent by teachers, head teacher and students, or the labour needed for the construction of the kitchen are examples of non-statutory variables that affect the implementation. And the mandate that the existing education structure can be used is an ability of the statute to structure the implementation. When it comes to objective the idea of providing food as the means to improve enrolment and nutrition among the children has been consistent but the clarity of the of the objectives which aid the main objective have gotten clear over a period of time. For example the minimum requirement of calories and protein was not mentioned until the revision in 2004. And the causal theory in place is that increase of nutrition value would increase in learning outcome. Also that providing of food would increase the enrolment rate, which has been true in a lot of cases.

The implantation is different in each state but broadly they are the same. Either there is a centralised kitchen, or an NGO which assists in cooking and transporting or the school cook its own food. Even within the State one or more implementation structure could be seen ( For example Gujarat where, in Ahmedabad a NGO has taken the responsibilities in most schools and also it is one of the states where there is a wide practice of school gardening for midday meal). But all these structures in place are legally structured party by the guidelines given by the centre based on the Supreme Court verdict and largely by the policy document of the respective State. This ensures that the support of the interest group and sovereign at least on paper. The scheme is been in place since the 90’s and the change in political conditions which is a major determinant in any policy of the country had very little to cause any effect on this scheme. Midday meal could be counted as one of the very few schemes that have had political support irrespective of the party in power in both at State and Central level.


The biggest critique one could point out is that, a top-down model treats the implementation as an administrative process which is the case with the midday meal scheme too. The objectives are clear but there are lots of other implications of the program due to complexities with respect to social structures and the discretion enjoyed by implementers based on these structures come into play.

Pressman and Wildavsky, (1973) identified 6 variables which decide success and failure of top down approach which also fits to Mid-Day Meal policy document and reflect why on its success and failure. Here are some reflections on these 6 variables:

  • Clear and consistent objectives & adequate causal theory- Mid Day Meal scheme has very clear causality relationship (nutrition and education) with specified goals at part of policy document and within its implementation structure which is government departments.

But it is not completely successful at ground level. Where people who are beneficiaries do not know what exactly the government departments are ought to deliver. For example: No. of calorie is fixed but the lower level hierarchies do not understand what food gives value of calorie. Thus in State where public awareness is more and monitoring structures are in placed to monitor (for example Tamil Nadu),  are performing better than other States.

  • Implementation process is legally structured to enhance compliance by implementing officials and target group- Though implementation process is designed to be legally structured through guidelines. Several States did not implement it because of different socio- economic and political reasons. Centre Mid-Day meal scheme shared its responsibility with States to decide on implementation structure which has mixed result. Some of the state came up with better implementation structure like Tamilnadu and Gujrat but most of them struggled with it like U.P, Bihar etc. where in absence of proper implementation structure mid-day meal became an additional responsibility of Education Department.
  • Committed and skilful workers- In Indian Education System which is highly centralised and bureaucratic. It is expected to perform its function on bureaucratic principles of efficiency. This efficiency depends a lot on committed and skilful workers and their agency working for achieving policy goal. As a policy there is hardly any emphasis on how to select people for monitoring and implementation of this program based on the contextual problems, it is not very difficult that it will lead to failures or expected success level.

This part of the implementation is always taken for granted but seems to be important for any successful implementation.  Different examples from different sector in public policy shows that with a minimum infrastructure and resource in policy implementation, skill full and committed workforce can make difference on the ground by exercising their agency.

  • Support of interest group and sovereign- this scheme was able to generate the support for itself from the beginning when it was introduced in the State of Tamilnadu politically and socially. The causality between health, nutrition and education was not too difficult to agree with. Many agencies national and international have collaborated with State and Centre to donate funds and or be a participant in its implementation for example Akshyapatra.
  • Changes in the social economic condition do not substantially undermine political support or causal theory- in this regard this scheme should be considered as successful because from 1995 to 2015 this policy did not suffer any breakdown politically dues to change in social economical condition of the nation even if more than 5 government term have been over.

Benergee and Duflo (2011) address a different kind of change in their explanation where they are focussing on beneficiaries rather than provider the state. They found that mid-day meal demand could decrease with increase in the increase of public school with the change of social status and income. They also pointed out though that can be the case this policy is hard to replace as mid-day meal then will conceived on extra meal to those who can already afford it.

Though a lot can be interpret in the mid-day policy as a top down approach. But a lot can be seen as manifestation of different implementation framework like synthesis approach. It has been very evident that mid-day meal program is not one time formulated program. It is not just being revised but revised by different government on different issues. That shows a very strong feedback mechanism has been created to make change according to the need of field of implementation. Example if of values of calorie and type of food given were successfully changed many times.  The other example can be the 2014 BJP lead government formulated guideline about safety and hygiene which was not earlier part of the initial policy.

Success and failure of the program:

  • Wide popularity- mid day meal scheme is world largest public lunch supply scheme in the world. This has generated not only international support for this program but it causality (health, nutrition and education) has made it imperative for successive government to implement.
  • Aiyer, (2008) says Mid-Day Meal has generated is one scheme which has been part of discussion at the lowest hierarchies in education department. All the more important this scheme became an important incentive for poor’s in India to send their children to school.
  • While nutrition needs may not have been met completely and this scheme is mere equated to one lunch in public school for free by most of the people who are beneficiaries as well as the providers. It has been interpreted both as an success as well as failure where the same reason apply that the program has been able to provide some nutrition and at least food to those who don’t get any.
  • Like any other policy implemented in India it is difficult to say explicitly in any report whether this scheme is successful or not. But Study reveals that MDM can improve student enrolment and attendance. But it is also true that children do not come to school to just to have food so school effectiveness on teaching and learning will definitely impact the success of this program.
  • No assurance of quality of food even after a decade since the policy- one of the biggest failure is to deliver food quality even when the program very specifically mention from the beginning what should be the composition of the lunch in terms of calorie value and nutrient. The linkages in food supply system decreasing standards of Public Distribution System have made it difficult to supply grains and essential food material on time. Ignorance of hygiene and safety has led to death and suffering of child after mid-day meal intake. Food grains have been found adulterated and quality food grains have been compromised at different levels.

Areas of improvement:

  • The MDM scheme has both successes as well its failures. But no one deny importance of its objectives. The scheme should continue with path dependence approach where a series of incremental steps over time to continue and move forward keeping into consideration of present reality.
  • Time needed to allow for all inputs to align in order to meet the intent behind policy objectives- no scheme can be implemented in its isolation even when its implementation structure has very little linkages. MDM has very complex linkages spreading from ministry of finance to ministry of health and its own HRD ministry at one level and whole set of players at the ground which are considered as implementers. This scheme is based on the support it gets from other policy like RTE norms to have good infrastructure in school as kitchen etc. due to resource constrains or political will these different input did not align yet and therefore this scheme needs a little more time for this alignment.
  • Create awareness among beneficiaries on nutrition and food menu- public awareness, demand and collective actions for these demand proved to be an important factor for successful implementation of scheme as well as overall governance in public sector. MDM also need this to be success story not just implementation but also to realize that its objective are met to improve the health of young child which common people should not ignore or I would say could not afford to ignore.
  • Look at MDM management models of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat to bring in administrative improvements and practice of combining MDM with additional health interventions.


The policy and program can be definitive or exhausted in details to a certain extent. In a country like ours this definitiveness has its own problems and positives. When difference of interpretation of policy by its different stakeholders and beneficiaries, resources, committed people to implement program, collective awareness and collective action varies across each states, block and at the level of school. it is difficult to make an clear cut statement that whether a particular implementation framework will work, what time it will take to implement popularly and how to analyse it successes as well as its failure.


  • Aiyer, S. (2008). The Accidental india. New delhi: Penguine Publication.
  • Srinivasan, V. (2015). Delivering Public Services  Effectively (Tamilnadu and Beyond). Bengaluru:Oxford Press

Wall Image: Uday Shankar Bora

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