New Delhi: The Union Human Resources Development (HRD) ministry has made it mandatory for all students availing free meals under the mid-day meal scheme to provide proof of Aadhaar cards, or apply for one before June 30.
Apart from students, cooks-cum-helpers working at mid-day meal centres as well, need to compulsorily have unique identification. The ministry’s move is in line with the central government’s mandate to link Aadhaar with subsidy schemes.
“This notification will be applicable across the country, except Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and Assam,” a Hindustan Times report stated.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lashed out at the centre’s decision. CM Mamata tweeted that,
“Now even infants (0-5 years) will need Aadhar cards? Aadhaar card for mid-day meals and ICDS? Shocking! 100 Days’ Work also not spared. Instead of helping the poorest of the poor, the downtrodden and our favourite children, why are their rights being snatched away? In the name of Aadhaar, privacy is being lost and there is extortion. Why is this Govt so negative? As a nation, we must condemn this.”
A notification in this regard will be circulated to schools, as per a senior ministry official. He added, “The use of Aadhaar as identity document for delivery of services, benefits or subsidies simplifies the government delivery process and enables beneficiaries to get their entitlements directly and in a seamless manner.”
On an average, 10.03 crore children availed midday meals in 2015-17, reports Hindustan Times. The midday meal scheme is a popular food programme in most states across India that is designed to help improve attendance while providing adequate nutrition to potentially malnourished students.
Cook-cum-helpers have also been mandated to furnish Aadhaar cards as they are given a honorarium by the government for their services, making them beneficiaries of the scheme.
During an inter-ministerial meeting held earlier this year, the Department of School Education and Literacy (DSEL) — under the HRD ministry — had opposed the decision saying it needs more deliberation.
According to the HRD ministry website, the central mid-day meal scheme, in 2007, “was extended to cover children of upper primary classes (i.e. class VI to VIII) studying in 3,479 Educationally Backwards Blocks (EBBs)”. “The nutritional norm for upper primary stage was fixed at 700 Calories and 20 grams of protein. The Scheme was extended to all areas across the country from 2008,” the website says.
The decision to link the Aadhaar biometric authentication system with mid-day meal scheme comes on the back of a number of government schemes being linked to Aadhaar. Much like the way the Modi government has decided to make an Aadhaar number mandatory for the EPS and MNREGA schemes, the HRD ministry has allowed students until June 30 to enrol for an Aadhaar card.
“The use of Aadhaar as identity document for delivery of services, benefits or subsidies simplifies the government delivery process and enables beneficiaries to get their entitlements directly and in a seamless manner,” the HRD ministry notification said.
Experts pointed out that the move was to ostensibly help curb any losses stemming from the midday meal programme: Totally 13.16 crore children are enrolled across India, with 10.03 crore children availing of a mid-day meals across 11.50 lakh schools (as of 2015-16).