Critical Analysis Of Rajasthan (India) Government’s Policy of Centralized Kitchen
This article critically analyses the policy of “Centralised Kitchen” adopted by the Rajasthan state government of India. In particular, the article explores the nature and challenges of this policy and its implications in respect of the rights and entitlements of Dalits especially under the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. It examines the role of legal instruments and institutions such as the Supreme Court in the promotion of education and social harmony by way of legal validation of initiatives geared towards the provision of adequate and accessible food to school children in impoverished communities. The key argument of the article is that despite strong legal provisions and judicial pronouncements, the Rajasthan state government continues to pursue a policy of “Centralised Kitchen” which appears to aggravate rather than alleviate some of the social problems specific to groups such as the Dalits.
The social caste system, poverty and illiteracy are the three evils preventing India from becoming an ideal human society. In April 2001, the Rajasthan chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties filed a writ in the Supreme Court demanding a judicial order on the right to food. In its interim orders the Court ruled that states must introduce certain schemes to ensure that citizens have adequate food to meet their daily nutritional requirements. The right to food is a basic right of every human being and it is the responsibility of the state to ensure its realisation as recognised under Article 212and 473of the Constitution of India. Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS) is one of many initiatives intended to provide adequate food to school children between class I to VIII enrolled in all government and government-aided schools. Supreme Court directed state Governments/ Union Territories to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government aided Primary Schools with a prepared mid day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.4
This scheme along with providing food to children is also effective in enticing children towards school thus promoting education and the subsequent potential benefits of fostering social and gender equality, job opportunities to a large number of socially marginalized people such as the Dalits. It is perhaps the fulfilment of the latter that led the Supreme Court to specifically note in its April 2004 order that “in appointment of cooks and helpers, preference should be given to Scheduled Castes (Dalits)5and Scheduled Tribes.”6This could be a useful tool in promoting social harmony and the eradication of the illusion of “untouchability” in cultural perceptions and mindsets among children. Corollary to this, there are also specific obligations imposed on teachers to ensure the strengthening of harmony among school children by promoting educational and social values.
Likewise in different states, Rajasthan Dalits are not appointed as cooks or helpers. In fact statistics do indicate that only 30% of cooks belong to Scheduled caste, and tend to be considered only in those areas where they constitute the majority of the local population. In most of the village schools, Dalits are served food separately and are not allowed to drink water from the same source as others. The response of the Rajasthan Government to this social problem has been through a policy of “Centralized Kitchen”. The policy has however appeared to be aggravating the problem, although the state government considers centralized kitchen as a remarkable successor, a view endorsed by the Indian Government. However, surveys conducted in various schools in Rajasthan suggest that the practice of De-centralized kitchen is much more advantageous than Centralized kitchen. This article examines the nature and challenges of this policy and its implications in respect of the rights and entitlements of Dalits Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.7
2. MID-DAY MEAL SCHEME IN RAJASTHAN: AN OVERVIEW
In order to comply with the Supreme Court’s interim orders,8Rajasthan’s Government initiated hot meals service by providing ghooghri9to school children at the cost of Rs.50 for individual children. But as this meal was served on a daily basis the scheme encountered a number of challenges. Soon after the government introduced the policy of centralized kitchen and signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with various non-profit organizations including Akshayptara, NaandiFoundation and the Jay Gee Humanitarian Society. The effect was that it replaced the policy of De-centralized Kitchen in some parts of Rajasthan. Generally these types of kitchens are located near the city area of various districts and provide food to hundreds of schools.10These centralized kitchens are providing food to around five lakhstudents and it is expected to reach around nine lakhstudents by the year 2008.11This scheme also plays other important roles as discussed below:
2.1 Increasing school enrolment and attendance
Article 2612of Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides that everyone has right to education and that elementary education shall be free and compulsory. In India this right is recognized under Article 21 of Indian Constitution.13In an attempt to fulfil this right as per Article 4514of the Indian constitution, the government provides free and compulsory education in all government and government aided schools. Books and school uniform are provided to students in SC/ST at no cost. But the quality of education provided in these schools is so bad15that most of the parents, especially in villages are of the view that sending their students to these schools will not improve their standard of living. So, what they do is that they involve their children in their work to help with the struggles for survival. Thus, for parents these schools hardly provide the kind of quality education necessary for boosting employment prospects or negotiating out of the poverty cycle.
Moreover, low quality of education in these schools is also responsible for increasing child labour. In this regard Mid-day Meal Scheme plays an important role in enticing children towards school. One of the main concerns among parents for their children is about their food. And, no parents want their children to be without access to education. So, it is expected that they will prefer sending them to school instead of forcing them to work. A hungry child is less likely to attend school regularly as hunger drains his/her will and ability to learn. Similar impacts are identified in different reports which show increase in enrolment (including females) and average attendance in these schools.16
2.3 Ending Classroom hunger and improving health and nutrition
During my survey, most of the parents and teachers agreed that there is some improvement in the health of their children. In some schools there were separate registers maintained for health checkups, and students were provided with health capsules. Earlier, students were not able to concentrate on studies due to hunger because most of them come to school with hungry stomach. Many of them who go back to home for lunch did not return to school. This scheme will be helpful in improving the education system due to improved response and concentration on studies. The menu for mid-day meal is designed in such a way that children get tasty, adequate and nutritious food. Thus the scheme can prevent chronic health issues such as anaemia and malnutrition. The scheme also extends to vacation times and areas where access to food is particularly difficult.17
2.4 Promoting socialisation among students belonging to different castes
According to the Mid-day Meal Scheme Guidelines, it is the duty of the teacher to ensure that the actual serving and eating is undertaken in a spirit of togetherness. According to this guideline “the involvement of teachers and community members in ensuring that children eat together in a spirit of camaraderie and develop sensitivity to their peers with different abilities, by offering them precedence, and instilling values of equality and cooperation would be very valuable support to the implementation.”18According to Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, inter-dining, though not effective as inter-caste marriage, can to a little extent, eradicate caste consciousness. In case of children who are taught by their parents not to sit/play/mingle with children belonging to lower caste, this practice of making them eat together can confront the problem of “ untouchability.”
If this scheme is implemented properly then we can expect less caste consciousness among the next generation. During my field survey, I found that in most schools food is served by the students irrespective of their caste and all students eat together. But in few schools students belonging to different caste sit separately. Dalits have to sit separately and are not allowed to serve food. They are not allowed to drink water from the same source as others either.19During class upper caste children sit in the first row and lower caste students sit at the back. The reason I found is that in those schools, teachers were supporting this kind of arrangement because most of them belong to upper caste.
According to Supreme Court order dated April 20, 2004, in appointment of cooks and helpers, preference should be given to SC and ST people. This approach has been taken in order to remove untouchability because when children belonging to upper caste will eat food made by lower caste, the worm of untouchability will go out of their mind. However it is difficult to implement but it is very useful approach in ensuring social equality. According to the state government report, most of the cooks belong to OBC and General caste and only 30% of the cooks belong to lower caste. Similar data can be seen in various reports.20One principal of a government-aided school, who was unaware of Supreme Court order of giving preference to Dalits in appointment of cook, said that if in centralized kitchen the food is prepared by Dalits then she will not allow food to be served in her school.
2.6 Employment of large number of marginalised people
This scheme can provide employment to a large number of marginalized people as cooks and helpers in each school. As the whole mid day meal programme presently covers 74,690 Government, Government-aided, Local Body schools, EGS and AIE centers21, it can provide employment to around 1,50,000 socio-economically deprived people.
Promotion of Gender Equality
This scheme has led to increase in female enrolment. Girls are not allowed to go to school because most of the parents think that it will be useless to send them to school because ultimately they have to marry someone. But this scheme provides incentives to their parents that their girl will get some food along with the education. Along with this, the scheme also provides an opportunity for a large number of socio-economically deprived female to get appointed as cooks or helpers.
3. DECENTRALISED v. CENTRALISED KITCHEN: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Rajasthan government has started the policy of “Centralized Kitchen” where food is made at one big kitchen which is fully mechanized and provides for a large number of schools depending on their capacity. Traditional “ De-centralized Kitchen” on other hand are found at schools. There is a growing debate on efficiency of these kitchens in fulfilling the goals of mid-day meal scheme. Some of these are analysed below.
As discussed above, “ De-centralized Kitchen” can provide employment to around 1, 50,000 socio-economically inactive people as cooks and helpers. The basic payment is Rs.400-700. But the state government has introduced the policy of centralized kitchen in various districts which has led to unemployment of these people. The reason behind this is that, these kinds of kitchens are fully mechanized and provides employment to nearly hundreds of people.
3.2 Quality of food
The most common complain found among teachers and students were about degrading quality of food coming from “Centralized Kitchen.” The complaints relate to:
Overall degradation of quality of food.
Degrading quality of chapattis(most common complaint)
Small insects in rice (locally called illi) and vegetables22
In some cases, rats and lizards found in food23
Menu not followed
Food not provided in adequate quantity
Food supplied is not hot (especially in schools far away from these kitchens)
In this kind of system, truck-drivers who bring the food to school are provided with a sheet which contains a form which has to be filled by the school in charge. Certain information such as quantity and quality of food supplied, and suggestion are to be filled. But parents and teachers find them helpless because they do not have any power other than to fill the form. So even if the quality does not improve they do not have that power as in “Decentralized Kitchen” to take immediate action. This has resulted degradation of quality of food. In “ Decentralized Kitchen,” the teachers and parents can maintain the quality of food.
3.3 Expenditure on conversion cost
Conversion cost24in “ Centralized Kitchen” is around 6Rs. per child per day25which is higher in comparison to “De-centralized Kitchen” where expenditure is around 2Rs. per child per day.26In “ De-centralized Kitchen” the conversion cost is less because it does not have to spend on transport, electricity etc. During survey, most of the parents, teachers and students were in favour of “ De-centralized Kitchen” because quality of the food was maintained and comparatively good. So, “De-centralized Kitchen” provides good quality food at comparatively lower rate.
3.4 The goal of socialisation
One of the main aims of mid-day meal is the promotion of brotherhood among children of different castes. It is for this reason that the Supreme Court mentioned in its orders, the duty of teacher to ensure children eat together as well as give preference to Dalits in the appointment of cooks and helpers. In the state of Rajasthan, only 30% of the cooks belong to SC/ST. Comparative study of different states shows that caste discrimination in Mid-day Meal Scheme in Rajasthan is comparatively higher than other states.27In most of the cases, the appointment was done without involving any community participation. In some cases where Dalits were appointed as cooks/helpers, they were later removed due to protest by the upper castes. This clearly shows the practice of “untouchability.”< /font>
This can be analyzed in light of Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1950. According to Section 4 (iii) of Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1950, “whoever on the ground of “untouchability” enforces against any person any disability with regard to-the practice of any profession or the carrying on of any occupation, trade or business or employment in any job shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than one month and not more than six months and also with fine which shall be not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees.” Here, the removal of Dalits from their job of cook/helpers on the basis of untouchability constitutes an offence under this section. In addition, the non-appointment of Dalits as cooks can be viewed as an offence for purposes of Section7(1) (a). According to this section “whoever prevents any person from exercising any right accruing to him by reason of the abolition of ‘ untouchability’ under article 17 of the Constitution; shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of not less than one month and not more than six months, and also with fine which shall be not less than one hundred rupees and not more than five hundred rupees.” As the language of Supreme Court order does not impose strict obligations on concerned authorities for appointment of Dalits as cooks, teachers involved in choosing the cooks who deny any such person being appointed, however prevents him from exercising their right to get appointed as cooks. But it does not constitute an offence under this section. However it violates the spirit of the 1950 Act.
The problem of non-appointment and removal of Dalits as cooks are occurring all over the country and several steps have been taken in different states to solve this problem. But in the case of the Rajasthan government, it has opted to go the opposite direction undertaking a “Centralized Kitchen” policy. This can be considered as an “active exclusion” which according to Amratya Sen is “fostering of exclusion through the deliberate policy interventions by the government, or by any other willful agents (to exclude some people from some opportunity).”< /font>28The mid-day meal scheme can be a powerful tool for promoting equality but the policy of “Centralized Kitchen” cannot play such role.
3.5 Community participation
To help enhance community participation in mid-day meal, the concept of Parent Teacher Association (PTA) has been introduced which takes decisions in the appointment of cooks and other issues related to mid-day meal.29In “Decentralized Kitchen” such an association works and the interference of parents in the whole practice maintains the quality of food. This interference also prevents corruption by the teacher involved in the scheme. But in the “Centralized Kitchen” policy, parents do not play such a role. Thus the community participation and especially the “panchayat” participation in the implementation of scheme have ended.
In light of the above analysis, it is plausible to conclude that the policy of “ Decentralized Kitchen” has more benefits than the “Centralized Kitchen” especially in the fulfillment of the goals of mid-day meal. But “Centralized Kitchens” can be beneficial in providing food in draught-affected areas where fruits and vegetables are not easily available and have to be transported from further afield. The problem of non-appointment and removal of Dalit cooks can be solved by imposing strict obligations on school authorities. As most of them do not appoint Dalit cooks on the basis that they were unable to find such cooks, the Supreme Court should impose strict obligation on them by making it mandatory to adopt an inclusionary recruitment culture. To promote equality and to remove caste discrimination it is imperative to tackle the cultural practice and mindset of the caste system. Part of this could be done through the Protection of Civil Rights Act.
A Report of the Workshop on Mid Day Meal Programmes in Schools of India- The Way Forward” July31-August 1, 2003, http://nutritionfoundationofindia.res.in/pdfs/Mid-day-meal-workshop-report.pdf
Sen, A ‘Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny,’ Social Development Papers No.1, http://www.adb.org/documents/books/social_exclusion/Social_exclusion.pdf
“Mid-day meals responsible for leap in female enrolments in primary schools” http://www.infochangeindia.org/bookandreportsst47.jsp
Mid Day Meals: A Primer, October 2005, http://www.righttofoodindia.org/data/mdmprimer.doc
“Minutes of the Meeting of the Programme Approval Board for Mid-Day Meal”, March 8, 2007, www.education.nic.in/mdm/mnts_pab_0708/MDM_PAB_8Mar.doc
The National Picture”, http://www.pratham.org/aser-report/Page%2014.pdf
“National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2006, Guidelines for
Mid Day Meal Scheme”< /font>Para 4.3 & 4.4, http://education.nic.in/mdm/mdmguidelines2006.pdf
“Rajya Main Mid Day Meal Karyakram: Ek Vishlashion”, http://www.righttofoodindia.org/data/barc2006middaymealstudy.pdf
Rajasthan, India: An Assessment of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Chittorgarh District” http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTSOCACCDEMSIDEGOV/Resources/Case3RajasthanCUTSSAcAugust2007.pdf
Sukhadeo Thorat, “ Caste, Social Exclusion and Poverty Linkages – Concept, Measurement and Empirical Evidence”, http://www.empowerpoor.org/downloads/castepovertypaper.pdf
1 BA, LLB (Ho0ns), National University of Legal Studies and Research University of Law, Hyderabad, India.
2 “Right to Life guaranteed under Article 21 also includes Right to Health”, State of Punjab v. Mahinder Singh Chawla, AIR 1997 SC 1225 :(1997) 2 SCC 83: 1997 SCC (L&S) 294.
3 “The state shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the state shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of consumption except for medical purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”
5 The groups of people in India formerly considered to be untouchables.
6 Indigenous people of india.
7 This article is based on the report and observations of field-based study conducted during an internship with a NGO named Peoples’ Union for Civil Liberties, Rajasthan. (November-December 2007). Around 60-70 schools in different parts of Rajasthan were surveyed including Jaipur, Bikaner and Udaipur.
8 The Supreme Court noted that: “We direct the State Governments/Union Territories to implement the Mid-Day Meal Scheme by providing every child in every Government and Government assisted Primary Schools with a prepared mid day meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days. Those Governments providing dry rations instead of cooked meals must within three months start providing cooked meals in all Govt. and Govt. aided Primary Schools in all half the Districts of the State ( in order of poverty ) and must within a further period of three months extend the provision of cooked meals to the remaining parts of the State.” (Supreme Court order dated November 28, 2001), http://www.righttofoodindia.org/orders/nov28.html (last visited April 2008).
9 Gruel made from boiled wheat mixed with gur (jaggery). Sometimes, oil and peanuts are added.
12 “ Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory....”
13 The Supreme Court in Unni Krishnan, JP vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1992 has held that "The citizens of the country have a fundamental right to education. The said right flows from Article 21 of the Constitution. This right is, however, not an absolute right. Its contents and parameters have to be determined in the light of Articles 45 and 41."
14 “The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”
16“ In the state of Rajasthan, the female enrolment rose by 29%, which was supported by the official estimates of 18% after MDM was started.” A Report of the Workshop on Mid Day Meal Programmes in Schools of India- The Way Forward July31-August 1, 2003,
http://nutritionfoundationofindia.res.in/pdfs/Mid-day-meal-workshop-report.pdf (last visited April 2008)
See also “ Rajasthan, India: An Assessment of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme in Chittorgarh District” http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTSOCACCDEMSIDEGOV/Resources/Case3RajasthanCUTSSAcAugust2007.pdf (last visited April 2008).
See also “Mid-day meals responsible for leap in female enrolments in primary schools” http://www.infochangeindia.org/bookandreportsst47.jsp (last visited April 2008).
See also “Situation Analysis of Mid Day Meal programme in Rajasthan”; University of Rajasthan and UNICEF; Prof. Beena Mathur, et al; 2005, (75% teachers said that mid-day meal has boosted enrollment while 85% teachers were of opinion that mid-day meal has enhanced school attendance.) as given in “National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2006, Guidelines for Mid Day Meal Scheme”, http://education.nic.in/mdm/mdmguidelines2006.pdf (last visited April 2008).
17 Supreme Court Order dated April 20, 2004, http://www.righttofoodindia.org/orders/apr2004.html (last visited April 2008).
18“ National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2006, Guidelines for Mid Day Meal Scheme”< /font>Para 4.3 & 4.4, http://education.nic.in/mdm/mdmguidelines2006.pdf (Date of last visit: April 12, 2008).
19“ Rajya Main Mid Day Meal Karyakram: Ek Vishlashion”, p.14-15
http://www.righttofoodindia.org/data/barc2006middaymealstudy.pdf (Date of last visit: April 12, 2008).
21 “Minutes of the Meeting of the Programme Approval Board for Mid-Day Meal”, March 8, 2007, www.education.nic.in/mdm/mnts_pab_0708/MDM_PAB_8Mar.doc (Date of last visit: April 12, 2008).
22 These insects are found when rice and vegetables are not properly cleaned. In centralized kitchen proper cleaning is not possible because of excessive quantity of food they have to prepare.
23 Reported in local newspapers (data unavailable).
24“ Conversion costs” refer to recurrent costs other than grain (mainly ingredients and salaries of cooking staff). Grain for Mid Day Meal Scheme is provided free of cost by the centre from FCI.
25 “ Executive Summary”, http://planning.up.nic.in/innovations/akshaya_patra/Executive%20summary%20-%20latest.pdf (Date of last visit: April 13, 2008)
26Assistance for cooking cost @ Rs. 1.50 per child per school day with mandatory contribution of 50 paisa by States to arrive at overall cost norm of Rs. 2. For making kitchen sheds centre provides Rs.60,000 and Rs.5,000 for kitchen devices. http://pib.nic.in/archieve/ecssi/ecssi2007/e_conference%202007.pdf (last visited April 2008).
27“ And in Rajasthan, where indicators are alarmingly low (8% Dalit cooks, 0% Dalit organizers, 12%
held in Dalit colonies), reported discrimination stands extremely high at 52%.” as quoted in Sukhadeo Thorat, “Caste, Social Exclusion and Poverty Linkages – Concept, Measurement and Empirical Evidence”, http://www.empowerpoor.org/downloads/castepovertypaper.pdf(last visited April 2008)
28Amartya Sen, ‘Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny’, Social Development Papers No.1,
http://www.adb.org/documents/books/social_exclusion/Social_exclusion.pdf (last visited April 2008)
29‘ Mid Day Meals: A Primer,’ October 2005, http://www.righttofoodindia.org/data/mdmprimer.doc (last visited April 2008)