The school feeding programme in India

The school feeding programme in India

Across the world, school feeding programmes (SFP) have been seen both as a social safety net for vulnerable sections of the population and as an educational intervention aimed at ensuring that children go to school and that their learning is improved by elimination of hunger in the class room. The role of SFPs as social safety nets may have been enhanced on the context of the recent and persisting global food, fuel and financial crises and high rates of food inflation in most parts of the world. In this context, the experience of a large and populous developing country like India with respect to SFPs becomes relevant for other countries seeking to initiate or to strengthen and expand such programmes. This paper provides a descriptive summary of India’s experience with SFPs, focussing mainly on the period since 1995, the year that saw the launch of a national initiative in this regard.

The key problems leading to the SFP in India were the large number of out of school children and undernourishment. It is estimated that 15 per cent of children 6-14 years are out of school while 57 million of the world’s 146 million undernourished children are in India. This spurred the commencement of the feeding programme in Tamil Nadu, Keral and Gujarat states and eventual launching of the programme nationwide (National Pogramme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education on August 15, 1995.  Beginning with the financial year 2008-09, the programme covers all children across the country studying in Government, Local Body and Government-aided primary and upper primary schools and the EGS/AIE centres.

Despite some challenges faced by the programme in India, the intervention is financially affordable and highly positive in its impact on enrolment, elimination of classroom hunger and promotion of gender and social equity. It is too early to assess its nutritional impacts. The links with health and nutrition can be strengthened considerably by better inter-sectoral coordination. The poor levels of community participation and the relative non-involvement of elected local bodies are weaknesses that need to be addressed urgently. But, overall, the paper asserts that the scheme has come to stay, and well worth the resources expended on it.