Data on the benefit that the Karnataka government has got on the linkage of Aadhaar to the mid-day meal scheme are revealing.
Here’s our report:
On 28 February last year, the central government announced that children availing benefits of the mid-day meal scheme across the country will have to furnish proof of possession of an Aadhaar number. Detractors of the Narendra Modi government were quick to rush and slam the decision and question the need for it. Various theories were floated, including that the government wanted children to enroll for Aadhaar and they would be tracked life-long.
The mid-day meal scheme is one that ensures school children are provided free lunch. It was a scheme envisaged by the late K Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu to get more children to the school when he was chief minister. The scheme was further strengthened by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam founder, the late M G Ramachandran, who converted it into a nutritious food scheme to help children overcome malnutrition. The scheme was then adopted at the centre in 1995, and has undergone various changes ever since.
Concerns over the government’s move were justified, but they became a reason for scaremongering. Given the ingenious way in which the current government has been putting the Aadhaar card to use, it was no surprise, then, that it had other objectives in mind. Soon, one of the objectives was served. Two months later, reports said that 44 lakh “ghost students” had been exposed in states like Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Manipur.
Opposition parties like the Congress were at the forefront in slamming the government’s decision to link Aadhaar numbers with beneficiaries of the mid-day meal scheme. But first, the Congress, and now its coalition partner, Janata Dal (Secular), are reaping the benefits of the centre’s decision in Karnataka.
The mid-day meal scheme in Karnataka is managed by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) under the Department of Education. While the Director of Public manages the running of the day-to-day affairs, the nuts and bolts, like linkage, are managed by the Education Department.
A DPI official, who did not wish to be identified, told Swarajya that the department’s job is to provide mid-day meals and the issue of Aadhaar linkage is dealt with by the Education Department. “If any child wants an Aadhaar card, we put them through to the concerned authority or person,” the official said.
At a mid-day meal centre in Doddathoguru in suburban Bengaluru, the in-charge, Manjula, said all the children at her centre, where nearly 50 take the free noon meal, had Aadhaar cards that were linked to the mid-day meal scheme offtake.
“All children have Aadhar linkage. If any child comes newly and if it doesn’t have Aadhaar card, we give the child a time of one or two months,” she said.
The mid-day meal scheme in Karnataka was started in 2002-03, with its launch in seven north-eastern districts of the state. The next year, the scheme was extended to all 30 districts. Initially, the scheme was confined to government schools, but later, government-aided schools were added. Again, only primary school children were given meals, but now students up to Class 10 are covered under the scheme.
“For government and aided schools, the centre and state share the burden on a 60:40 basis up to standard eight. For standards nine and 10, the state government shoulders the entire burden,” the DPI official said.
Currently, 54,830 schools, including primary, higher primary, high school, and madrasas, are covered under the mid-day meal scheme. Government schools make up 48,098 of them.
A little over 58 lakh students enrolled for the mid-day meal scheme and nearly 53.48 lakh students have got the approval to be covered. The students are given rice, dal, vegetables with oil, salt, fuel, and condiments, all being given due weightage in the meal composition. The state has come out with a menu chart wherein four days a week, the students are given sambar-rice with the vegetable content in it varying, at least, on alternate days. On Fridays, students get bisi bele bath, and on Saturdays, they get a wheat-based product.
Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have also chipped in to help the government in the mid-day meal scheme. Nearly 66 NGOs are involved in feeding some 9.3 lakh children across Karnataka in 5,587 schools. One of the features of the NGO participation is that the meals are prepared at centralised kitchens.
With NGOs participating and taking care of 17 per cent of the beneficiaries, the state government’s efforts to go in for Aadhaar linkage of beneficiaries has paid good dividends.
While DPI officials said they did not have any detail on Aadhaar card linkage to the mid-day meals scheme, the Education Department provided details on students studying in government schools only in three districts of Udupi, Uttar Kannada, and Dakshina Kannada.
Still, data received by Swarajya on the benefit that the Karnataka government has got on the linkage of Aadhaar to the mid-day meal scheme are revealing.
According to an official in the Education Department, some 2.1 lakh students studying in government schools in the three districts are benefiting from the mid-day meal scheme. Of these, Aadhaar card proofs have been provided by 1.56 lakh students.
“We have accepted the Aadhaar cards produced by the parents since they have promised to get the Aadhaar cards for their children soon,” the official said. In districts like Dakshina Kannada, Udupi, Uttara Kannada, Mysuru, Bengaluru Urban, Shivamogga, Hassan, Chikkamaguluru, Haveri, Hubballi, Dharwad, Belagavi, and Chitradurga have seen nearly 85 per cent of students providing Aadhaar cards.
Still, officials have been able to identify ghost students or duplicate entries, though data made available were for these three districts only.
Department officials say that till May this year, they have identified 45,676 Aadhaar cards and denotified them in these districts. This means a whopping 20 per cent have been identified as “ghost students” in the three districts.
“Many of the entries were in the names of parents,” an official in the Education Department said.
Officials of the Unique Identification Authority of India in Bengaluru have asked details of the children and parents in cases where duplicate entries have been found in order to weed them out.
Leaving that aside, the official points out that this in itself has helped the government save a handy sum. “We spend Rs 10-12 a day per child for mid-day meals. Let’s assume that the identification of ghost students has helped the government save Rs 11 per duplicate entry a day. That results in a saving of over Rs 5 lakh a day,” the official said.
Given that the mid-day meals are given for 25 days a month, it is a monthly saving of Rs 1.25 crore. For a year, the savings run into over Rs 15 crore in the three districts.
If the Karnataka government could save Rs 15 crore by eliminating ghost students in three districts alone, department officials say that the total yearly savings could be over Rs 100 crore. Off the record, they whisper that the savings could well be around Rs 250-300 crore.
And if one were to go back to the figures that the centre put out, of identifying 44 lakh ghost students, the savings annually run to over Rs 1,000 crore!
Officials who worked out the rough figure say this is exactly the reason why many wouldn’t want to come on record to talk. And the losses might not be confined to the “ghost students” alone, they say, leaving you to read between the lines.
With inputs from M Raghuram