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UP uses cellphone to monitor midday meal scheme

Uttar Pradesh is using modern technology to ensure that children in 1.5 lakh government schools get the mandated midday meal

In 1.5 lakh government schools across Uttar Pradesh, a cellphone rings around noon every day and a computer-generated voice asks if the midday meal in the school has been cooked, and how many children have been served that day. 

The ‘supercaller’ is an initiative to monitor the midday meal scheme, a centrally-driven programme to ensure that children in school receive one nutritious meal a day provided by the school.

The information gathered by a computer through the interactive voice response system is automatically recorded on the website of the Uttar Pradesh Midday Meal Authority. The caller system is based on a technology called ‘cloud telephony’, a new IVRS-based telephone system.

The teacher who answers the call is asked to press the number of students who have eaten the midday meal. If the number is zero or too little, the teacher is told to press any of numbers 1 to 4, each representing a reason for the low figures, such as 1: no cook; 2: no ingredients; 3: no transport; 4: any other reason. This way the administration gets to know immediately if there is a problem at any school.  

Each call costs Re 1.50. The central government allots 2% of the midday meal budget for monitoring activities such as this.

The scheme has impressed the Union Human Resource Development Ministry that has asked the National Informatics Centre to develop software so that the system can be replicated in other states of the country. Andhra Pradesh has already shown interest and contacted Knowlarity Communications, the company that developed the system. Orissa, Uttarakhand and West Bengal have also expressed interest.

The midday meal scheme, also known as the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, was launched by the central government on August 15, 1995, with the aim of universalising primary education by improving enrolment, attendance and retention, and raising nutritional levels among children. The programme also seeks to promote hygienic and sanitary practices, break caste prejudices through the sharing of meals, and foster gender equality among schoolchildren.   

Like similar welfare programmes, the midday meal scheme too has its implementation problems. While the ‘supercaller’ may take care of a few of these problems, it does not address many others that were revealed in a 2009 annual report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). Around 76% of schools in Uttar Pradesh use poor quality foodgrain for midday meals, the CAG reported. Moreover, there is misuse of funds and financial irregularities. Foodgrain worth Rs 121.98 crore remained with the transporting agencies (2002-2007) and fair price shops (2005-2007), indicating poor transportation of grain. Of the 320 schools inspected, around 61 did not have adequate kitchen devices and potable water.  

Source: The Indian Express, January 20, 2011
   , January 2011