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#India – Midday meal tragedies: Gujarat sitting on time bomb?


Ankur Tewari,TNN | Sep 3, 2013, 03.09AM IST
: The Gujarat government has clearly not learnt any lesson from the recent midday meal tragedy in Bihar in which 23 children died. Nothing else can explain the dismal and unhygienic conditions in which midday meal is served to around 40 lakh students in over 37,000 schools in the state. A visit by TOI to a number of government schools in Ahmedabad confirmed that the administration continues to be indifferent to the quality of midday meal which is supposed to boost the health of children.

In most schools in Ramnagar, Ranip and Usmanpura areas of the city, the verandah where students are served food is abuzz with swarms of mosquitoes bred in stagnant rainwater nearby. At Sabarmati Government Schools No. 7 and 8 in Ramnagar, students have to carry heavy utensils after they are loaded with food.

In a clear violation of guidelines, none of the schools has the MDM menu for the week written on its walls. Such display of menu is meant to ensure transparency in the scheme.

Principal of Government School No. 7 in Ramnagar, Radha Yadav told TOI that she has directed teachers to taste the meal before it is served to students. However, when food was served during this correspondent’s visit, none of the teachers tasted it.

Manjula and Ganga (names changed) are both students of the same school. They said they have to carry the utensils in which they are served food. “Moreover, we are often served very little food,” said Ganga. They confirmed that no teacher ever tasted the food before it was served to them.

What’s more, 20 districts do not have a deputy collector, senior officials said. It is the deputy collector who coordinates and supervises the supply of foodgrain and edible oil to schools and decides the weekly menu.

was the second state after Tamil Nadu to implement the scheme in 1984. At present, 44 lakh students in government schools in the districts as well as schools run by the six municipal corporations get mid-day meal.

Interestingly, Gujarat was one of the first states to abandon the school-based decentralized kitchen model and go for a centralized kitchen system. This was done in answer to frequent complaints about the MDM scheme such as poor quality of the cooked meals, theft of ration and, sometimes, adulteration.

The first centralized kitchens in the state were run by the Akshaya Patra Foundation in parts of Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. Later, this was introduced in Vadodara city and nearby talukas.

An MDM official said that now three NGOs – Akshay Patra, Stree Shakti and Nayak foundations – supply the food. “We have received several complaints about delay in food supply and the food being of inferior quality. Many of these complaints are against two of the NGOs,” the official said.

According to state guidelines, the menu should include lassi, khichdi-vegetable, dal-dhokli, dal-rice, muthia-handwo and pulav. However, students do not get this diet, the official added.

K P Patel, chitnish to MDM commissioner, keeps stock of the scheme. He said that a report by an expert panel formed by the Union HRD ministry to evaluate the implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and MDM scheme, found discrepancies in the enrollment and low dropout numbers quoted by several states, including Gujarat.

“The report said Gujarat did not even release the Union government‘s share of money for madrassa modernization and teacher training schemes,” he said, adding that the expert panel had found only the work of Karnataka and Maharashtra satisfactory.

Clearly, the Bihar tragedy is waiting to be repeated somewhere in the country as the officials concerned have been disregarding for long warnings about lack of accountability in the programme. The case of Gujarat is no different though it has been lucky so far in not having such a disaster.

Minister denies discrepancies

Despite AMC commissioner ordering periodic checks of the raw material used for cooking midday meal after the recent raid on Stree Shakti Foundation, education minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama denied any discrepancies. Chudasama told TOI, “Such reports keep getting published, but they aren’t true.” He added, “I have, so far, not come across any such complaint.”

Stree Shakti Foundation, which got the contract of providing food to thousands of children in municipal schools, was raided by health team officials, who found that the cooking oil was substandard. When contacted, Stree Shakti and Nayak Foundation officials also refused to comment.

Right to morsel

The meal comprises following food items in 9,500 MDM centres in the state:

Wheat

50 gm (1 to 5 standard)

75 gm (6 to 8 standard)

Rice

50 gm (1 to 5 standard)

75 gm (6 to 8 standard)

Pulses

20 gm (1 to 5 standard)

25 gm (6 to 8 standard)

Vegetables

50 gm (1 to 8 standard)

Edible oil

10 gm (1 to 8 standard)

(Equivalent to 450 calories and 15 grams of protein)

High stats

Type of school Number of schools

Government 30,713

Local body 1,370

Grant-in-aid 478

AIE centres 4,473

Total 37,134

More harm than good

Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) is responsible for implementation of the scheme in the city. AMC covers 563 schools under 61 MDM centres. It caters to 12 lakh beneficiaries, which is about one third of the total number in Gujarat.

The government spent Rs 28 million in 2005-06 and Rs 1,400 crore in 2007-08 on the scheme. However, schoolchildren are still not getting the food they are entitled to, officials said.

The government had recently formed a committee, led by MS University’s department of food and nutrition head Uma Iyer. The panel said that the MDM food lacks micronutrients. According to World Health Organization website, lack of micronutrients in the body would result in iodine, Vitamin A, iron deficiencies. Micronutrients enable the body to produce enzymes and hormones essential for the growth and development of children.

Some hope

MDM department is mulling to divide the state in four zones where it will deploy nutrition experts, who will suggest what changes needed in the menu.

Grim reminders

In a suspected case of poisoning by midday meal, a seven-year-old girl died at a municipal school in Asarwa on April 10. Nine others were hospitalized. In 2012, worms were found in midday meal at a school in Amraivadi area of Ahmedabad. On July 15, 2012, 47 students of a government primary school at Brahmanvasi village, Vadodara, were allegedly beaten up by their teacher for raising voice against the quality of meal.

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