In light of recent debates surrounding the implementation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) in certain states, it is useful to understand the basic features of the scheme. The MDMS is the world’s largest school meal programme and reaches an estimated 12 crore children across 12 lakh schools in India. A brief introduction follows, outlining the key objectives and provisions of the scheme; modes of financing; monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and issues with implementation of the scheme. Examples of 'best practices' and major recommendations made by the Planning Commission to improve the implementation of the scheme are also mentioned. Provisions:  The MDMS emerged out of the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP – NSPE), a centrally sponsored scheme formulated in 1995 to improve enrollment, attendance and retention by providing free food grains to government run primary schools. In 2002, the Supreme Court directed the government to provide cooked mid day meals (as opposed to providing dry rations) in all government and government aided primary schools.[1] Calorie norms for the meals have been regularly revised starting from 300 calories in 2004, when the scheme was relaunched as the Mid Day Meal Scheme. At present the MDMS provides children in government aided schools and education centres a cooked meal for a minimum of 200 days.[2] Table 1 outlines the prescribed nutritional content of the meals. Table 1: Prescribed nutritional content for mid day meals 

Item Primary (grade 1-5) Upper Primary(grade 6-8)
Calories 450 700
Protein (in grams) 12 20

Source: Annual Report, 2011 – 12, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India; PRS. Objectives: The key objectives of the MDMS are to address the issues of hunger and education in schools by serving hot cooked meals; improve the nutritional status of children and improve enrollment, attendance and retention rates in schools and other education centres. Finances: The cost of the MDMS is shared between the central and state governments. The central government provides free food grains to the states. The cost of cooking, infrastructure development, transportation of food grains and payment of honorarium to cooks and helpers is shared by the centre with the state governments. The central government provides a greater share of funds. The contribution of state governments differs from state to state. Table 2 outlines the key areas of expenditure incurred by the central government under the MDMS for the year 2012 – 2013. Table 2: Key areas of expenditure in the MDMS (2012 - 2013)

Area of expenditure                                      Percentage of total cost allocated
Cooking cost 53
Cook / helper 20
Cost of food grain 14
Transportation assistance 2
Management monitoring and evaluation 2
Non recurring costs 10

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; Fourth NSCM Committee meeting, August 24, 2012; PRS. Monitoring and Evaluation: There are some inter state variations in the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms of the MDMS.  A National Steering cum Monitoring Committee and a Programme Approval Board have been established at the national level, to monitor the programme, conduct impact assessments, coordinate between state governments and provide policy advice to central and state governments. Review Missions consisting of representatives from central and state governments and non governmental agencies have been established. In addition, independent monitoring institutions such as state universities and research institutions monitor the implementation of the scheme. At the state level, a three tier monitoring mechanism exists in the form of state, district and block level steering cum monitoring committees. Gram panchayats and municipalities are responsible for day to day supervision and may assign the supervision of the programme at the school level to the Village Education Committee, School Management and Development Committee or Parent Teacher Association. Key issues with implementation: While there is significant inter-state variation in the implementation of the MDSM, there are some common concerns with the implementation of the scheme. Some of the concerns highlighted by the Ministry for Human Resource Development based on progress reports submitted by the states in 2012 are detailed in Table 3. Table 3: Key implementation issues in the MDMS

Issue State(s) where these problems have been reported
Irregularity in serving meals Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh
Irregularity in supply of food grains to schools Orissa, Maharashtra, Tripura, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh
Caste based discrimination in serving of food Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh
Poor quality of food Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh
Poor coverage under School Health Programme Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh
Poor infrastructure (kitchen sheds in particular) Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa
Poor hygiene Delhi, Rajasthan, Puducherry,
Poor community participation Most states – Delhi, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh in particular

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; PRS. Best practices: Several state governments have evolved practices to improve the implementation of the MDMS in their states. These include involving mothers of students in implementation of the scheme in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand; creation of kitchen gardens, i.e., food is grown in the premises of the school, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and West Bengal; construction of dining halls in Tamil Nadu; and increased community participation in the implementation of the scheme Gujarat. More information is available here. Planning Commission evaluation of MDMS: In 2010, a Planning Commission evaluation of the MDMS made the following recommendations to improve implementation of the scheme: i. Steering cum monitoring committees at the district and block levels should be made more effective. ii. Food grains must be delivered directly to the school by the PDS dealer. iii. The key implementation authority must be made responsible for cooking, serving food and cleaning utensils, and school staff should have a supervisory role.  The authority should consist of local women’s self help groups or mothers of children studying in the schools. iv. Given the fluctuating cost of food grains, a review of the funds allocated to the key implementation authority must be done at least once in 6 months. v. Services might be delivered through private providers under a public private partnership model, as has been done in Andhra Pradesh.

[1] PUCL vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001. [2] The following institutions are covered: Government and government aided schools, National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools, Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres including Madrasas and Maqtabs supported under the SSA

In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions.   According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021.  The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023.  The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand.   Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations.  The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023.  There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction.  Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states.   As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks.  In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations.  Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws.  In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.

Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws

Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards.  Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates.  These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role.  The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means.  Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids.  Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh. 

Issues to consider

The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating.  The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence).  Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed.  In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years.   Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years.  However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating.  Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.

The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction.  Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law.  This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates.  The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction. 

These laws also vary in scope across states.  In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission).   In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees.  For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023.   The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.

Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.