Op-Ed: Parle-G Biscuits or Daal and Rice?

The answer, in terms of nutritional value for children, should be obvious.  However, in terms of government policy, the question is much more complicated.  Even policy-makers responsible for implementing the Mid-day Meal Scheme don’t seem to have any definite answers.  Why?  First, let me rewind.

In response to dwindling school enrollment rates and rising rates of malnutrition in children, the Indian government devised the Mid-day Meal Scheme, which is supposed to provide daily, nutritious cooked meals for attending students.  The government attests to the scheme’s effectiveness to date:

The government claims over 90% enrolment through the introduction of the midday meal scheme. [Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development], M. Fatmi said that, of these, 82.5% were in government schools. He added that since the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, all out-of-school children in the 6-14 age-group had been brought into the fold of elementary education from the figure of 32 million in 2001-02.  

Despite these gains, however, problems persist.  A recent controversy in Madhya Pradesh regarding corruption paints a dismal scenario:

Regularity in serving mid-day meals is a major issue here. At some places there is shortage of food material, while at others the local PDS shop is not making food supplies available. At many places, suitable cooks are not available. In Rampur village of Kharwahi block in district Satna, children were not getting mid-day meals from January 2007. Similar is the situation in Kakarwaha, Binagar, and Suklai village of Tikamgarh and in Kot village of Athner block in Bhind district.

There’s more. At some places, there are allegations that teachers themselves earn money by selling mid-day meal supplies in the market, alleges Sachin Jain of Vikas Samvad, an NGO that has a substantive record of involvement in the state.

Now, that brings us back to our original question.  In response to rising inefficiency, corruption, and lack of fiscal, managerial, and human resources, the government has recently proposed that cooked meals be replaced with packaged food, i.e. biscuits.  They argue that packaged food will eliminate problems associated with the labour-intensive process of cooking food, and ensure that more children actually receive food as promised by the program.  I argue this is great for Parle, but bad for children.  Click “Read More” to find out why.

The objective of the Mid-day meal scheme is to provide children with nutritious food.  According to research, however, not only is packaged food less nutritious, but also more costly per unit:

A review of available evidence showed the value of cooked meals over dry rations or biscuits. Several studies have indicated that not only is the quality variable but the nutritional impact of dry snacks is also questionable. A fresh meal offers a better range of nutrients and is less costly in terms of per rupee nutrient yield, compared to packaged food.

Packaged food, therefore, should be served as supplementary to cooked meals, not as a substitute.  If, in accordance with the below 2001 Supreme Court ruling, policy-makers can find packaged food that is as inexpensive and nutritious as cooked food, the question is a more straightforward one. 

Every child [is] entitled to a cooked meal that has 300 calories and 8-12 gm of protein per day for a minimum of 200 days a year. Malnourished children [are] entitled to 600 calories and 16-20 gm of protein.

As things stand, however, our children deserve more than biscuits for lunch.  Rather than lowering the nutritional value of meals and raising prices, the government should be working with local government institutions, local NGOs, and community leaders to better implement the existing programme.  Or, as stated in a comment to this post, the government should build innovative partnerships with the private sector that capitalize on resources, distribution networks, and cutting-edge nutritional research in order to provide underprivileged children with the nutritious food they deserve to do well in school. 


4 Responses

  1. Well, clearly Parle-G is very bad idea. The biscuit was clearly not created as a nutritional product.

    However, there is opportunity for the government to partner with a consumer foods company and create a new products which meets the nutritional needs of the children. In addition, such companies usually have robust distribution networks that can be relied upon to get the product to remote schools across the country. The goal however is not take a product off the shelf – like Parle-G and propose it as a solution.

  2. I agree. The reason I cited Parle-G as a example is because the article cited in this post mentions the following:

    “The concerns persist despite Union Minister of State for Human Resource Development M A A Fatmi stating in Parliament recently that serving biscuits as part of the midday meal scheme was not in the interest of schoolchildren. The minister said he had received a proposal last year from biscuit manufacturers for the serving of biscuits in place of hot cooked midday meals.”

    You can replace “Parle-G” with any biscuit company for the purposes of this article. My point was exactly what you say near the end of your comment – if the government can find a nutritious and cost-effective substitute for cooked meals (especially in partnership with a company with widespread distribution networks, like you stated), I agree with the proposal. As it stands, however, this is clearly not the case.

  3. pl clarify the nutritive value of Parle G biscuits
    mentioned as calories. Is it corect if it is in kcal are the two same or kcal is for 1kg biscuit
    pl reply

  4. great full thinks about biscuits read here for getting every thinks.

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