Odisha MDM Scheme in distress, steep dip in beneficiaries

The MDM beneficiaries dipped to 39 lakh in 18-19 from 45 lakh in 15-16. S&ME department's failure in utilisation led to a cut in the sanctioned amount in 18-19

Bhubaneswar: Mid-day Meal (MDM) scheme in Odisha is apparently in distress. For the last four-year period, not only institutions implementing the MDM schemes were on the descent but a steep dip in MDM beneficiaries was also observed.

While the implementing institutions portrayed a fall of 8 per cent during the last four-year period (2015-19), the number of beneficiaries posted a higher slide of over 13 per cent.

Sample this. The number of institutions implementing MDM scheme in Odisha in 2015-16 was over 62, 780 and the beneficiaries availed totaled to 4.5 lakh. The numbers gradually dwindled to around 57, 590 and 3.99 lakhs, respectively in 2018-19.

Even, in the utilisation of Central fund allocated under the scheme to the State, the trend was discouraging as the unutilised proportion showed a spike over the years.

When in 2015-16, the State government had not only utilised the amount sanctioned for the year but also spent the dues from the previous financial year.  However, since 2016-17,  the School and Mass education department failed to spend the amount sanctioned by the Centre for the MDM scheme. It was observed that the gap between allocation and spent increased from around 5 per cent in 2016-17 to 7 per cent in 2017-18. The result: Centre had pruned the allocation for 2018-19 by over 9 per cent to Rs 39, 557 crores.

Though the School and Mass Education Department top officials refused to comment on the data that emerged at a recent review meeting here, a massive maladministration in the scheme’s implementation was observed by a 2014-15 field study commissioned by the Union HRD ministry.

The report stumbled on  the fact that when the Government could lift around 85 per cent of food grains (rice) supplied, the same failed to reach the schools in proper quantity. As a result, the School Management Committee (SMC) had to somehow arrange rice for continuance of the programme in some schools, while in several others the mid-day meal to children was stopped for the want of rice or poor quality rice supplied.

The monitoring team during its visit to around 40 schools in Rayagada found no MDM served in eight schools. The reason was non-availability of rice, terming it as artificial scarcity. Because, only 85 per cent of supplied food grains for the scheme were lifted in the State.

The team during its visit to Subarnapur district observed that as high as 12 per cent of sampled schools have not served the MDM for at least five days during the last three-month period from the date of visit. And the reason was same. Such instances are galore in districts like Balangir and Gajapati, the team mentioned.

The State government has only yesterday hiked the cooking cost of the MDM here. But field study revealed that the cooking cost provided under the scheme was delayed by a high of three-month period in all impoverished districts taken for test-check.

In Rayagada, around 80 per cent schools had not received the cooking cost in advance for last three months from the team’s date of visit, the report revealed.