Mid-day Meal or Mid-death Meal : A serious review
The Midday Meal Scheme is the popular for school meal programme in India, started in the 1960s. It involves provision of free lunch on working days in schools. The key objectives of the programme are: protecting children from classroom hunger, increasing school enrollment and attendance, improved socialization among children belonging to all castes, addressing malnutrition, and social empowerment through provision of employment to women.
It has been adopted by most Indian states after a landmark direction by the Supreme Court of India on November 28, 2001.
While the mid-day meal should be enriched with proteins, especially for the growing children, but the On Wednesday, the mid-day meal tragedy with fatalities rising to 27 children, at Dharmashani and Gandman Primary Schools in Bihar has shaken the country.
Various scams involving Midday Meal Scheme have been unearthed since it was started. Distribution of contract of Midday meal scheme is one of the most corrupt practices in India. Despite the success of the program, barring few major and minor incidents of sub-standard supplies, the child hunger as a problem persists in India.
According to the Global Hunger Index, India ranks at 65 out of 84 countries and the 2008 report says that India has more people suffering hunger – a figure above 200 million – than any other country in the world, it says. The report also says “improving child nutrition is of utmost urgency in most Indian states
Across India, the Midday Meal Scheme provides roughly 120 million children with free lunches, making it the world’s largest school lunch programme. The program aims to fight widespread poverty; nearly half of India’s children suffer from malnutrition. The program has been credited with improving children’s school attendance and health.
In the instant incident in Bihar on July 17, initial indications are that the food was contaminated by organ phosphorus, a chemical commonly found in insecticides. Honestly speaking, had it been a case of natural food poisoning, so many children would not have died.
The cooking oil used had been placed in a container formerly used to store insecticides could be the cause of killing of children. Since the school did not yet have permanent facilities, the school’s food was stored at the house of the headmistress.
In Bihar, 97 per cent schools were reported to be checked for quality of meals prepared and distributed till December last but the incident of Dharmasati has put a big question mark on the scheme.
The mid-day meal started by he Centre Government in government schools, during the lunch time, with budget of crore of rupees, under Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan, is under controversy since long for supply of unhygienic and sub-standard food.
Today, 10.7 crore children studying in government schools, are covered under this mid-day meal scheme and nutritional and hygienic servings have been major challenges in most states. In the past, several scams have been busted where foodgrain is pilfered and poor quality and under-weight meals are served.
The storage norms fixed to store the ingredients in containers protected from moisture, pests etc. are not being adhered by the suppliers resulting in serious incidents of playing with the life of innocent children.
In fact, the foodgrain supplied, is treated with Organophosphates (Op) frequently by the storage agencies, for longer storage but the grains are not washed before it is cooked for serving. In the instant case, a foul play is suspected as the mustard oil used for cooking was giving a foul smell.
The supplies made directly from the godowns is not free from adulteration, pets etc. according to PAISA report.
In one of the Planning Commission report of May 2011, 72.3 per cent children did not like the mid-day meal, 77.9 per cent not satisfied with the food supplies and 69.1 per cent said it to be sub-standard.
Despite finding the mid-day meal containing stones, snake, frog, iron pills, dead flies, lizards, poisonous material in the past, on number of occasions where kids took ill after eating the mid-day meal in school but no concrete steps have been taken by the government to ensure to keep a proper check over the carelessness in its supplies.
All these incidents were a alarming to improve the things but none of the government has taken it so seriously and treated it as a routine matter.
Whatever may be the cause behind the killing of innocent children after consuming the mid-day meal, one thing is crystal clear that from the reported number of incidents of supply of unhygienic and sub-standard mid-day meal, there is need to have a proper check over the supply of mid-day meal and review the scheme as the children who had a tragic death, in tender, age were yet to enjoy the colors of life,
There is no doubt that the midday meal scheme has contributed immensely in boosting attendance in schools and has found a way to address pervading malnutrition among children across India. The midday meal scheme is a full time job that requires dedicated staff.
It is unfair to students that teachers should lose precious time due to the scheme more so when there are issues related to corruption and the quality of meals.
The government should seek public-private partnership or provide cooked meal in schools.
The other alternatives are; first, to serve the children, a packet of biscuits which are far more hygienic or the government should think over starting the cash benefit so that the children could bring the food from home in their own tiffons, to avoid any risk of killing of children with supply of sub-standard supply of mid-day meals.