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Free lunch in Bangalore (and elsewhere across India)

The world's largest school lunch program is working. Mostly.

The free lunch program was introduced in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. As with many other government programs, the free lunch program was initially dismissed as a political gimmick. But the advantages are overwhelmingly obvious and it was quickly adopted by other states.

In 2001, India’s Supreme Court mandated that the program run in all government schools across India.

In India, most government programs are populist, based on election promises made by political parties. Many of them are corruption-ridden and barely a fraction of the money spent eventually benefits the people it is intended for. The Midday Meal program too has had its share of controversies.

In a country that ranks high on corruption lists, diversion of funds and food grains is a common complaint. In November in New Delhi more than 100 school kids were hospitalized for food poisoning following the midday meal.

The school lunch program has also proved a strong social equalizer. The school kitchens are, by government order, manned by those of the country’s untouchables or scheduled caste. Children from lower castes, whose parents were not even allowed to draw water from the village well, now sit side by side and share the same meal.

In Agara, children from all castes sit side by side, eating and laughing through their tasty lunches.  “In areas where poor, rural families neglect the education of the girl child the program has bridged the gender divide,” said K.G. Gopal, headmaster of the Agara school.