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. 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. 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)|
|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|
|Cook / helper||20|
|Cost of food grain||14|
|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.
 PUCL vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001.  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
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.