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

Recently, the Supreme Court collegium reiterated its recommendations for the appointment of 11 judges to certain High Courts.  It had first recommended these names earlier this year and in August last year, but these appointments were not made.  The Indian judiciary faces high vacancies across all levels (the Supreme Court, High Courts, and subordinate courts).  Vacancy of judges in courts is one of the reasons for delays and a rising number of pending cases, as there are not enough judges to hear and decide cases.  As of today, more than four crore cases are pending across all courts in India.   In this blog post, we discuss vacancies across courts over the years, delays in appointment of judges, and methods to determine the adequate judge strength required to handle the caseload courts face.

High vacancy of judges across courts

Vacancies in courts keep on arising periodically due to retirement, resignation, demise, or elevation of judges.  Over the years, the sanctioned strength of judges in both High Courts and subordinate courts has been increased gradually.  However, vacancies persist due to insufficient appointments (see Figures 1 and 2).  Between 2010 and 2020, vacancies increased from 18% to 21% across all levels of courts (from 6% to 12% in the Supreme Court, from 33% to 38% in High Courts, and from 18% to 20% in subordinate courts). 

Figure 1: Vacancy of judges in High Courts

Figure 2: Vacancy of judges in subordinate courts



Sources: Court News 2010-2018; Vacancy Statement, and Rajya Sabha replies, Part I, Budget Session (2021), Department of Justice; PRS.

As on November 1, 2021, the Supreme Court had a vacancy of one judge (out of a sanctioned strength of 34).  Vacancy in High Courts stood at 37% (406 posts vacant out of a sanctioned strength of 1,098).  Since May, 2021, the Supreme Court collegium has recommended more than 130 names for appointment as High Court judges.  In three High Courts (Telangana, Patna, and Calcutta), at least half of the posts are vacant (see Figure 3).  The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020) noted that every year, 35-40% of posts of High Court judges remain unfilled. 

Figure 3: Vacancy of judges across High Courts (in %) (as on November 1, 2021)


Source: Vacancy Statement, Department of Justice; PRS.










Appointments of High Court judges are guided by a memorandum of procedure.  As per this memorandum, the appointment process is to be initiated by the concerned High Court at least six months before a vacancy occurs.  However, the Standing Committee (2021) noted that this timeline is rarely adhered to by High Courts.  Further, in the final stage of the process, after receiving recommendations from the Supreme Court collegium, the executive appoints judges to the High Court.  No timeline is prescribed for this stage of the appointment process.  In 2018 and 2019, the average time taken to appoint High Court judges after receiving the collegium’s recommendations was five to seven months.

As of today, over 3.6 crore cases are pending before subordinate courts in India.  As on February 20, 2020, 21% posts for judges were vacant (5,146 posts out of the sanctioned strength of 24,018) in subordinate courts.  Subordinate courts in Bihar, Haryana, and Jharkhand (among the states with high population) had a high proportion of vacancies of judges (see Figure 4).  Note that the Supreme Court is monitoring the procedure for appointment of judges to subordinate courts.

For an analysis of the data on pendency and vacancies in the Indian judiciary, see here.

Figure 4: Vacancy of judges across subordinate courts (in %) (as on February 20, 2020)


Source: Report No. 101, Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2020); PRS.


How many judges do we need?

The Law Commission of India (1987) had noted the importance of manpower planning for the judiciary.  Lack of adequate number of judges means a greater workload per judge.  Thus, it becomes essential to arrive at an optimal judge strength to deal with pending and new cases in courts.  Over the years, different methods of calculating the required judge strength for subordinate courts (where the backlog of cases in the Indian judiciary is concentrated) have been recommended (see Table 1). 

Table 1: Methods recommended for calculating the required number of judges for subordinate courts

Method of calculation

Recommendation and its status

Judge-to-population ratio: optimum number of judges per million population

The Law Commission of India (1987) had recommended increasing this ratio to 50 judges per million people.  This was reiterated by the Supreme Court (2001) and the Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002).  For 2020, the judge-to-population ratio was 21 judges per million population.     Note that this figure is calculated based on the sanctioned strength of judges in the Supreme Court, High Courts and subordinate courts.

Rate of disposal: number of additional judges required (to clear the existing backlog of cases and ensure that new backlog is not created) based on the average number of cases disposed per judge

The Law Commission of India (2014) proposed this method.  It rejected the judge-to-population ratio method, observing that filing of cases per capita varies substantially across geographic units depending on socio-economic conditions.

Weighted case load method: calculating judge strength based on the disposal by judges, taking into account the nature and complexity of cases in local conditions

The National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016) critiqued the rate of disposal method.     It proposed, as an interim measure, the weighted case load method, which addresses the existing backlog of cases as well as the new flow of cases every year in subordinate courts.     In 2017, the Supreme Court accepted this model.

Time-based weighted case load method: calculating the required judge strength taking into account the actual time spent by judges in different types of cases at varying stages based on an empirical study

Used widely in the United States, this was the long-term method recommended by the NCMS (2016) to assess the required judge strength for subordinate courts.  It involves determining the total number of ‘judicial hours’ required for disposing of the case load of each court.  The Delhi High Court used this approach in a pilot project (January 2017- December 2018) to calculate the ideal judge strength for disposing of pending cases in certain courts in Delhi.

Sources: Reports No. 120 (1987) and 245 (2014), Law Commission of India; Report No. 85, Standing Committee on Home Affairs (2002); Note for Calculating Required Judge Strength for Subordinate Courts, National Court Management Systems Committee (NCMS) (2016); Imtiyaz Ahmad vs. State of Uttar Pradesh, Supreme Court (2017); PRS.