Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday urged the Centre to restart the mid-day meal scheme in government schools, noting that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected children the most.

“Schools were the first institutions to be closed and the last to be reopened,” Gandhi said during the Question Hour in the Lok Sabha. “With the closure of schools during Covid pandemic, the system of mid-day meals was also stopped.”

The mid-day meal scheme, renamed to PM-Poshan last year, provides one hot cooked meal to students in government and government-aided schools. It is a centrally-sponsored scheme that benefits students from classes 1 to 8.

The Congress leader pointed out that while citizens got dry ration during the pandemic under the National Food Security Act, it was “no substitute to nutritious food for children”.

The mid-day meal scheme will also help bring back children who have dropped out of school during the pandemic, said Gandhi.

She also asked for provisions to be made in the Budget for cooked food under the Integrated Child Development Services program.

“Children below three years of age, pregnant and lactating women should be ensured hot and cooked food through Anganwadis.”

According to the National Family Health Survey of 2019-21, the percentage of children below five years of age who suffer from stunting has increased in recent years as compared to 2015-16, noted Gandhi, adding that the government should intervene as these statistics are quite worrying.

Notably, as recently as last week, a Parliamentary Standing Committee had flagged that funds allocated for the PM-Poshan scheme were being underutilised.

The committee, chaired by the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Vinay P Sahasrabuddhe, noted that as of January 31, only Rs 6,660.54 crore (57.91%) of the total allocation of Rs 11,500 crore had been spent in this financial year.