The Madras High Court on Friday directed the state government to develop contingency preparations so that the school Midday Meal Scheme is not affected in the case of future natural catastrophes or pandemics like the COVID-19 pandemic.
While it is hoped that the worst is over, the Court stated that the COVID-19 pandemic may have taught humanity not to take anything for granted and to be ready for the worst. The court further stated that “It would be prudent for the State to prepare a plan of action in which, in the event of a natural disaster, a pandemic, or anything beyond the ordinary difficulty, there is a plan B or plan C in place so that vulnerable children and young adults do not go without nutritious meals,” Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu were hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) petition submitted earlier this year, which expressed concern about the suspension of the Midday Meal Scheme in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Court was informed on Friday that the Tamil Nadu Midday Meal Scheme had already resumed for pupils in the 9th and 10th grades after courses resumed in September. The provision of hot, cooked, healthy meals with eggs under the aforementioned scheme will be reinstated for other school-aged children once classes return on November 1, the Court was told.
Senior Advocate NL Rajah, appearing for the petitioner, argued that the plan could not be suspended in the future, regardless of the circumstances. He informed the Court that this is the legal position. Noting that the Midday Meal Scheme is a highly beneficial initiative, Chief Justice Banerjee suggested that a plan be put in place to prevent it from being disrupted in the future. The matter was then adjourned for four weeks while the Secretary of the State Social Welfare and Women Empowerment Department filed a status report. In addition to the progress report, the Court requested the state to state whether “there is an exigency or emergency plan in place to deal with a scenario such as the epidemic has brought about.”
During the hearing, the Court expressed its gratitude to the State for resuming the Midday Meal Scheme in rural areas even before the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted completely.