The central government has increased the cost of cooking school lunches by 9.6% from October 1 that will be valid for the 2022-23 fiscal year, the Ministry of Education told state and union territory governments, which will offer some relief to school authorities struggling to cover costs at a time of high inflation.
The cost was revised following the recommendations of a review committee formed last year that included representatives from the education, finance and labor ministries, as well as independent experts.
On Friday, G Vijaya Bhaskar, director of PM POSHAN, the official name of the world’s largest school lunch program, relayed the review to concerned officials from all states and union territories.
The education ministry had received approval from the finance ministry through an office memorandum dated September 27, an education ministry official said. “According to the regulations, the cost must be reviewed every year. But due to the pandemic, the review could not take place last year. The ministry will review the cost of the material every year from now on,” said the official, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The scheme covers some 118 million students in classes 1-8 in 1.1 million schools. It also covers preschool students.
The cost of cooking the midday meal was last reviewed in 2020. It increased from $4.48 to $4.97 per student per school day for elementary classes between 1 and 5, and $6.71 a $7.45 for upper primary grades between 6 and 8.
The daily cost of cooking for pre-primary and primary classes has now been revised to $5.45 per child, and for upper primary grades it has been increased to $8.17 per child, according to Bhaskar’s letter.
Under the PM POSHAN scheme, the cost of cooking gets the largest allocation among all components, including the prices of ingredients such as grains, legumes, vegetables, cooking oil, and other condiments.
The Center shares the cost with states and union territories on a 60:40 basis and contributes 100% in union territories without a legislature. For the northeastern states, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, and the union territories of Jammu and Kashmir, the ratio is 90:10. States and union territories can contribute more than their prescribed share.
The cost was revised at a time when school officials in several states and UT raised concerns about the impact of food inflation on the midday meal program.
“We welcome the government’s decision to increase the cost of cooking at a time when the price of almost everything has risen,” said Apurva Handa, a public school principal in West Bengal. “It was very difficult for us to continue with the cost of cooking from 2020 in 2022. However, we expected an increase of at least 12% to 15%.”