Health, nutrition and education are interrelated in such a manner that one cannot really afford to deal with them separately. Unfortunately, our public policy has often tended to undermine this interrelationship where deficiency on one count leads to deprivation on the other. The reflection of this tilted priority is most conspicuous in the schools, the most desired area for implementing a synergic policy. It is probably not the ignorance of our policy makers that led to the absence of a synergic approach towards the delivery of schooling. Rather, it is quite possible that it is the class bias in govern-mentality that has resulted in neglecting the whole of the schooling system which, as a general case, are attended by the poor. For example, as Rama V. Baru tells us, in her essay, ‘School Health Services in India’, in the book under review, ‘As early as 1909, the princely state of Baroda initiated medical inspection in schools and several other states and provinces . . . did the same through the first half of the twentieth century at the primary and secondary levels’ (p. 145).
However, the long history of the school health services could not protect the programme from the governmental malaise of lower fund allocation, inadequacy in terms of human resources and above all poor implementation, as we read in Baru’s essay. Similarly, despite the recognition of nutritional deficiency among school children and the need for launching a cooked Mid-Day Meal programme it took many years after Independence just to formulate such a nationwide programme (Nutritional support to Primary Education, 1995). Then it took another half decade and a wake up call by the Supreme Court of India following a writ petition by the Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Rajasthan branch, to actually start implementing the programme.
Baru’s volume attempts to bring ‘together articles on various components of school health in India that includes the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDM Scheme), School Health services and School Health education’. But, the editor is only partially successful in her attempt. The three essays on mid-day meal (Jean Dreze and Aparajita Goel’s, ‘The Future of Mid-Day Meals’, Reetika Khera’s ‘Mid-Day Meals in Primary Schools: Achievements and Challenges’ and Meera Samson, Clair Noronha and Anuradha De’s ‘Towards More Benefits from Delhi’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme’) put forward the urgency and relevance of the programme on the one hand and the possibility of its much better implementation on the other. But, as regards the book as a whole the editor seems to have been in a hurry to publish the book rather than engaging herself meaningfully with her declared priority. The book begins with a rather hasty introduction by Baru that neither succeeds in introducing the theme nor in making clear the arrangement of the book. It is unfortunate to see an academic of Baru’s standard using data without giving any clear source. She claims that ‘If one examines the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) of children in the school going age, it has not reached 100 percent in any state, except Kerala’ (p. 2). But, she does not give any source for this data. However, she mentions in the next line the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) data—for a different purpose and that too for 1986–87! Does she use the NSSO data? If so, why use 1986–87 figures? Recent studies on primary and elementary education show a tremendous increase in the enrolment in elementary level (the PROBE and Pratichi Reports are only two of a number of such studies). Data provided by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (Arun C. Mehta, Elementary Education in India: Where Do We Stand?: State Report Cards 2006–7, New Delhi, 2008) show that of the 34 states and union territories 20 have actually had more than 100 percent GER. There are several such flaws in the introduction.