Physical classes resumed Feb. 28, but teachers said they are still seeing low attendance in rural and inland pockets of the state, which is why midday meals are not yet served.
Sources said that although the children either receive dry rations or cash in their bank accounts, this hardly serves the purpose as they are not getting the nutrition they need.
“Before Covid hit, midday meals attracted children to schools. This, in turn, used to meet their nutritional needs. Since March 2020, they have been deprived of this facility. Although the government provides them with rice in the form of a dry ration and deposits money in their accounts, it is distributed within the family. Children not receiving midday meals are a flagrant violation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act,” said Anil Pradhan, an activist with RTE.
Sukanti Hembram, a 35-year-old widow who works as a domestic helper to feed her family of three, said: “Lunch meals were a huge relief for me. But after the pandemic forced schools to close in March 2020, I struggled to organize even a square meal for my children. I was so happy when the schools finally reopened and hoped my kids would have at least one good meal a day. But that didn’t happen. The amount we receive instead of lunch is spent on many other things in a poor household like ours.
About 47 lakh students (grades I to VIII) studying in 62,889 schools are the beneficiaries of the midday meal program. In the pre-Covid period, these schools followed a weekly menu. It would include rice served with dalma (legumes cooked with vegetables), soy curry and egg curry on alternate days. In the wake of Covid-19, primary and upper primary schools remained closed for two years and children received dry rations.