Story of poisonous Mid-Day meal in India - Seeker's Thoughts

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Story of poisonous Mid-Day meal in India


In all 4,278 children have fallen sick due to food contamination and 23 have died in 2013, in the last 6 years data reveals sought under RTI from the Department of School Education & literacy. Overall there are uncountable cases of food poisoning have been reported from across the country.
Mid-day meal - the concept is supposed to give better nutrition’s to undernourished poor children but it has been making them sick and even killing them in some cases. 
The fact is that poor child when die, their parents are not aware to create a voice.  The silence remains the real story of Indian mid-day meal in government schools.
More than 900 children were reported ill across the country with zero fatalities due to the consumption of mid-day meals in the past three years, and this was according to the officials of the Human Resource Development Ministry. 


The Mid-day Meal Scheme is a school meal programme of the Government of India designed to improve the nutritional status of school-age children nationwide. 

The overall responsibility for providing cooked and nutritious mid-day meal to eligible children lies with state governments.



Why poor and underprivileged children have always suffered?

In India every year thousands of children have been falling ill after consuming mid-day meals served under the national scheme since it started. It happens in every state children’s get sick and died after consuming midday meal.

In all 4,278 children have fallen sick due to food contamination and 23 have died in 2013, in the last 6 years data reveals sought under RTI from the Department of School Education & literacy. Overall there are uncountable cases of food poisoning have been reported from across the country.




States like Maharashtra and Bihar have the highest number of cases where children fell sick and even died. While the government has laid down stringent rules for the National program of Mid-day Meals, they are flouted.
Sadly, there is no exact data available on action was taken by the government, or how many FIRs were filed. 

The problems with Mid- day meals are

Though the program seemed well-intended, applicability and execution have not been up to the mark as there is no inspection for food. 

 Even after getting a huge chunk of salary government officials don’t do their duty. Education officers and food inspectors are expected to conduct surprise inspection at least twice a year, yet the corruption and improper approach towards the job hold higher place while performing a task. 
Headmaster has to visit kitchens of self-help group twice a month. As per government orders. Teachers have to taste the food half an hour before it is served, but if the implementation was done correctly, there would have been positive news about mid-day meal.


Mid-day meal related scams and other such issues further weaken the entire scheme. That is why 42.5% of children under 5 are still underweight. Rate of child malnutrition is higher than most of the other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
                                                                     Credits - FAO


Some important reasons that chart how the mid-day mead scheme riddled with the problem in India

Focus is on reach not on quality or quantity

The government only concentrates on statistics as to how many number of schools they are able to cover and provide food. They don’t give importance to quality. 
Political parties use this programme as a tool to their party’s horn and show how much they are doing for the children in their constituencies. 
Not once to do they bother to check whether the scheme is being implemented properly or that the children it is intended for are actually eating it.


Serving death for lunch

Most of the children who study in village government schools are very poor and end up eating this mostly as their only meal for the day.
The forensic reports in case of children's death say that poisoning because the oil used for cooking was kept in the pot which was previously used to store pesticide.
There are many such unreported cases where students who this have reported of dysentery and ill health.

So parents and children fearing safety declined to have food served in these mid-day meals.

As per the government’s guidelines that the meal should be of quality, besides being nutritious, tasty and digestible, varying from day to day to ensure variety in the menu. 
High standards of hygiene and cleanliness are expected to be maintained during the cooking and serving of the meal, along with transparency in accounts, which would be open for public scrutiny.

Corruption

Is there any part of the country or there any segment of running of the system without corruption?
The answer is NO. Here’s a report conducted in 2015.

CAG’s performance audit report of Mid-day meal not only found financial mismanagement by the HRD ministry but it has also discovered states having indulged in the diversion of funds to the tune of rupees 123.29 core meant for the scheme.

Casteism
The flagship Mid-Day meal scheme in Rajasthan, Orissa, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh is afflicted with large-scale caste and gender-based discrimination. 

Like this recent incident in Madhya Pradesh points out. In some places the upper caste children refuse to eat food cooked by SC/ST women, in some places the Dalit and backward classes students are made to sit separately from the others, other states have reported incidents where food was reportedly thrown at the Dalit students.

The scheme is supposed to work as per the guidelines. It is also expected to use the opportunity to impart a spirit of equality among and sharing by children of different social backgrounds.

Lack of implementation

In an academic paper titled Caste Discrimination in Mid-day meals (MDM), the authors conducted a survey to come to a conclusion. It emerged during the study that though 99 per cent of the schools had facilities for operation of the MDMS, and 97 per cent of them provide cooked meal during most the days, yet in about 11 per cent of the villages, the food was served only a few days a week, while in 2 per cent of the cases, it was served very rarely. 
In 38 per cent of the cases, the prescribed menu was not followed and the quality of food was also allegedly poor.
The location also has consequences for the attendance in the school by the SC children and their access to the MDMS, as these children often face harassment while passing through the high caste localities, which discourages them from attending school, thereby also adversely affecting their participation in the MDMS.


Concept of Mid-Day meal

The concept of mid-day meal scheme is not new in India as its roots can be traced back to the pre-independence era when British administration initiated a Mid-Day Meal Programme for disadvantage children in Madras Municipal Corporation in 1925. Like this many such programmes were initiated in different states.

In 1953, the government of Uttar Pradesh started another such scheme. Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to introduce a noon meal programme in primary schools. In 1984 this scheme was introduced in Gujarat. From time to time the meal scheme was taken up by different states and later on it was taken up as a national scheme.

As per the Mid-day Meal scheme, all the children studying in primary and upper primary classes in Government school will get free lunch during working days. As per the government, this scheme is the world’s largest school feeding programme.

Mid-Day meal programme

In 2001, the Supreme Court passed an order stating “A basic entitlement of every child in every Government and government assisted primary schools with a prepared Mid-day Meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.

What was the objective of the scheme?

The main objective of the scheme was to improve the effectiveness of primary education by improving the nutritional status of children thereby reducing malnutrition.

To attract children from disadvantaged sections, especially girls from schedule caste and Adivasi tribes to school, thereby increasing attendance, reducing dropout rates & promoting women empowerment through literacy.

To promote a feeling of oneness and secularism amongst various different religions and cultures.




A way forward

This a time for the Indian government to take radical actions against these corrupt officials who fills their pockets and let this incidents happen across the country. Central government needs to issue the guidelines to the state government for look after every government school.

There is a need to include certain fruits, high protein and leafy vegetables could help solve the issue of nutrition with proper hygiene.

Monitoring menus regularly in a stringent manner and periodically testing samples for nutrient content may also be helpful in ensuring that such guidelines are followed.

Nutrition education in the curriculum may also help spread awareness among children about the quantity and quality of their meals. Procuring produce from local farmers creating vegetable gardens in the school are always ways in which healthy, hygienic and nutrient rich food might reach children.

Moreover, there is a need to be a concerted effort to increase investment in the scheme. “Basically decentralisation, the sufficiency of investment, and allowing for quality, locally available food rather than thinking in terms of centrally packaging food is a better approach.

The formidable goal for ending malnutrition and ensuring every school-going child gets a nutritious, healthy meal cannot be accomplished without the government actively pursuing this matter. 
As a signatory of the SDGs, it is India’s duty to actively work towards ending ‘all forms of malnutrition’ by 2030. With centralised kitchens and stagnant budgets.  
Proper fund allocation and through ensuring access for all too nutritious food, things can surely be changed. Its high time India takes the requisite steps, so that no child dies on account of poor food quality or malnutrition.

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