The possibility of providing mid-day meals even during school holidays should be explored, a top HRD ministry official said on Friday in reference to the recent death of a Jharkhand girl allegedly due to starvation.
The official said while it has been established that the 11-year-old girl was not being denied mid-day meals, it was true that she could not avail its benefits during the period that preceded her death due to school holidays.
"Can we think of some initiative for the poorest of the poor wherein we can provide them mid-day meals even during holidays?" Rina Ray, special secretary in the Department of School Education and Literacy under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, asked.
Under the mid-day meal scheme, every enrolled child, aged 6-14 years and studying in classes 1 to 8, is provided hot cooked meals having certain notified nutritional standards. The scheme comes under the HRD ministry's Department of School Education and Literacy.
Ray was speaking at a day-long conference here on implementation of the National Food Security Act, 2013, in relation to children, lactating mothers and pregnant women, organised by the National Human Rights Commission.
She conceded that any such move might have huge financial implications and that many schemes run by her department were already suffering from "severe financial crunch".
Activists and the Jharkhand girl's mother, Santoshi Kumari, have alleged that she died of starvation as her family's ration card was cancelled due to non-linkage with Aadhaar, a unique identification number.
Officials, however, contested that the girl, a resident of Jharkhand's Simdega district, died of malaria.
Touching upon the contentious issue of Aadhar seeding, the HRD official emphasised that it was "not mandatory", even as she flagged concerns on leakages due to ghost enrolments.
Quoting reports from four states, Ray said about five lakh ghost beneficiaries of the scheme have been found during the process of Aadhar linkage. The official, however, did not name the reports.
"We will have to strike a balance between the benefits of having an ID and ensuring that no child is denied benefits due to the lack of it," she said.
NHRC chairperson H L Dattu lamented about India's position in the recently released 'Global Hunger Index' despite the existence of schemes like mid-day meal and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). India stood at 100th place out of 119 nations.
Speaking on the occasion, Women and Child Development secretary Rakesh Srivastava noted the Prime Minister's Office had recently directed the district collectors to meet at least once in three months to review the status of malnutrition among children.