Midday meals programme for all children only in a “phased manner”

The Congress -led coalition government, within a matter of just two weeks had developed cold feet! Its tall promises in its so-called Common Minimum Programme (CMP) is heavily diluted, if not heavily backtracked.

Its bold promise on education, specially on elementary education was seen its wholehearted, commitment to take on the Millennium Development Goals. The UN, the World Bank, the entire world community had all set their minds on these highly laudable Goals that would in effect see reduction in world poverty levels, in world illiteracy levels, in seeing all school going age children really make it to the class rooms health, girl education gender parity …. all highly relevant to India. India is, as the whole world knows, is home to the largest numbers in any of these categories of Millennium issues.

So, the countrymen believed the new government would really be making a meaningful break with the past dithering. Dithering under the BJP dispensation didn’t actually amount to fulfilling the aspirations whose time in office of the people. So, one thought, the 2004 election was a vote for performance and a vote against the non-performance of the BJP.

Now, with the old allies like the DMK, PMK and MDMK heavily back in the new dispensation too, the Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi power dispensation, with the Left making loud protestations about their purity of politics and political commitment very much on public display, the people shouldn’t be so quickly taken for granted.
The CMP pledge to introduce in all the country’s primary schools and secondary a national cooked nutritious (noon) meal scheme “funded mainly by the Central Government is now, as stated in the President’s address, is to be redeemed in a phased manner”. It is a cruel irony. What does the phased implementation means?

The existing noon meals schemes in various States are so uneven, they don’t serve the critical difference in making it a magnet to draw school going age children to class rooms. Heavy dropouts, the out of school children, more owing to poverty, and the girl children in particular vulnerable for domestic pressures to drop out of the schools early in their life are all very much in states. Orissa, UP, Bihar, why, even W. Bengal and AP, even Karnataka area all having wide pockets of poverty traps for school going age children.

If this core minimum education programme is not implemented in all its seriousness at the very speed in which is called for, then no amount of brave talk would be worth while. The younger age groups that have voted in the election would also look for truth in what the new government would be doing. Even in guaranteed employment for one person in each household is now diluted, it seems. There are also other dilutions, exclusions and new inclusions. The CMP should not become an excuse for not taking certain goals and targets seriously.

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