The Centre on Wednesday renamed the National Scheme for Mid Day Meal in Schools programme to PM Poshan for providing one cooked meal to children studying in Classes 1 to 8 in government and government-aided schools.

The government will also extend the scheme to pre-primary, or Bal Vatika, students in government or government-aided schools. The National Education Policy 2020 had recommended the extension of the midday meal scheme to pre-primary students, reported The Hindu.

In a statement, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, which is chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said the total budget of the scheme for a five-year period till financial year 2025-’26 would be Rs 1.30 lakh crore.

The Centre would bear Rs 54.06 thousand crore of the total expenditure and state government and Union Territory administrations Rs 31.73 thousand crore. The central government would also bear a cost of about Rs 45,000 crore on foodgrains.

“The scheme covers about 11.80 crore children studying in 11.20 lakh schools across the country,” the statement said. “During 2020-21, government of India invested more than Rs 24,400 crore in the scheme, including cost of about Rs 11,500 crore on foodgrains.”

States will be asked to directly transfer cash of cooking costs to schools and to the bank accounts of cooks and helpers as their monthly honorarium, according to The Hindu. An honorarium pay is an amount given to people for their services when the giver has no obligation to do so.

The rebranded scheme, however, does not mention the demand of cooks to increase the monthly honorarium amount of Rs 600. “If states wish to give a top-up, they can do so,” said Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The Centre will encourage cooking competitions from village to national levels to “promote ethnic cuisine and innovative menus based on locally available ingredients and vegetables”, the statement said.

It said the government will also encourage Tithi Bhojan, a community participation programme in which people provide food to children on special occasions.

The Centre will also promote development of nutrition gardens in schools to give students first-hand experience with gardening. “The harvest of these gardens is to used in the scheme providing additional micro nutrients [to the children],” the statement said. “School Nutrition Gardens have already been developed in more than 3 lakh schools.”

Farmers Producer Organizations and Women Self Help Groups will be encourage to involve themselves in the implementation of the scheme, the statement said. The government also said that it will encourage the use of locally-grown traditional food items to stimulate the regional economic growth.

The government has also made social audit of the scheme mandatory. “Field visits for progress monitoring and inspections will be facilitated for students of eminent universities/institutions and also trainee teachers of Regional Institutes of Educations and District Institutes of Education and Training,” the statement said.