The Karnataka High Court recently asked the State government to take a decision on re-starting the mid-day meal scheme for eligible students, as it is a necessary concomitant of the fundamental right to education under Article 21A of the Constitution.
The Court also had occasion to underscore the need for providing mid-day meals to the students as their health and nutrition can be directly linked to their education.
Elucidating on this aspect, a Division Bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and JM Khazi said,
“It is needless to observe that the provision of mid-day meal is a necessary concomitant of the fundamental right under Article 21A of the Constitution of India insofar as the children who are in the age group of six to fourteen years are concerned. But the State has formulated Mid-day Meal Scheme covering all Government and aided schools upto 10th standard. Therefore, it is necessary the students who are attending classes from 6th standard to 10th standard in the Government and aided schools are provided mid-day meal.
As noted above, the significance and importance of providing mid-day meals to the students who attend schools cannot be under-estimated, rather, the same has to be under-scored, as health and nutrition of students is very much a necessary concomitant for education. Hence, the State is directed to take a decision with regard to the provision of mid-day meals with effect from 15/04/2021 so long as the schools in respect of 6th standard to 10th standard are kept open for the physical attendance of the students.”
During the hearing, the Additional Government Advocate had apprised the Bench that Anganwadi centres are kept open from 9:30 am to 12:00 noon and that Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) food is being supplied to the doorsteps of Anganwadi beneficiaries.
The attendance of children in Anganwadis is on a rotational basis and SNP food in the form of Take Home Ration (THR) is being provided instead of hot cooked meals, the Division Bench was told. A status report to this effect was furnished by the government counsel.
The report further informed the Court that for students from classes 6 to 10, the State government has decided to continue with the Food Security Allowance in the form of food grains to be supplied to the students.
However, after a thorough perusal of the status report, the Court observed that no effective steps have been taken for recommencement of mid-day meals for children attending classes from 6 to 10.
In this regard, the Court noted,
“On perusal of the Report, we find that nowhere in the report it is stated, whether steps have been taken for recommencement of mid-day meals for children attending classes from 6th standard to 10th standard. Schools have been kept open and admittedly, students are attending classes. If the schools have been kept open, then necessarily mid-day meals have to be provided to the students who are attending schools. The action plan during the pandemic was to provide for Food Security Allowance in the form of dry ration (food grains) upto 10/04/2021, but we are of the, prima facie, opinion that the said system cannot be continued if the schools are permitted to be kept open.”
The matter has been adjourned to April 8.
Earlier, the Court had questioned the logic of the State government in reopening schools but at the same time withholding mid-day meals citing COVID-19.
“For one year you were aware of this consequence, still there is no plan in place. If you allow opening schools, it allows congregation. If you can permit that, then why can’t you start mid-day meals?” Justice Nagarathna had asked.