Mid-day meal tragedy: Its time to fix accountability

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Mid-day meal tragedy. (PTI photo)
In a chilling reminder of last year's Saran mid-day meal tragedy which claimed lives of 23 school children, the news of 54 children falling ill after eating the afternoon meal at a government school in Bihar's Sitamarhi district has once again proved that the administration has not yet learnt from its mistakes.

What is more appalling is the fact that a snake was found in the khichdi served to the kids. This raises concerns over quality, hygiene and safety of the food being served.

Such tragedies reflect the carelessness of mid-day meal workers and teachers

Reports of students falling prey to unhygienic food from across the country, especially in Bihar, is on the rise. But state administrations are still clueless to find a viable solution to curb this menace.

On Saturday, as many as eighty students from a government school in Tamil Nadu's Chittoor district were rushed to a hospital after they complained of vomiting and nausea. On Thursday, 22 children complained of stomach ache after eating mid-day meal in east Delhi's Patpar Ganj. A thirteen-year-old girl had died and ten others took ill due to suspected food poisoning after eating mid-day meal at a school in Chhattisgarh's Bilaspur district, on Wednesday.

Although, the kids are completely out of danger but rise in the number of these cases reflects the carelessness of the mid-day meal workers as well as school administrations. As per rules, a teacher is supposed to eat the meal before serving it to the children, this perhaps has not happened in any of the above cases.

Such cases are very prevalent in the state of Bihar, which show carelessness on the part of authorities concerned. A few months ago, a dead rat was found in the mid-day meal served to a student at a primary school in Patna. In the past, dead lizards, frogs and insects have been found in food cooked in schools in the state. This puts a blot at the state government's image which claims to have now secured the fifth position among best performing states in the mid-day meal scheme.

Claiming Bihar made strides in providing mid-day meal, state Education minister PK Shahi had told in January as per assessment by Central agencies, "We are in the fifth position among best performing states in midday meal scheme for school children."

Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Tripura were the only states ahead of Bihar. The mid-day meal scheme is running in 72,000 schools across Bihar, and 16 million students avail of meals cooked under the scheme.

States need to focus in this regard as there is dire need to review the performance of the kitchen-cum-stores to ensure safety, hygiene and quality of food. Accountability needs to be fixed and heads should be rolled if any laxity is discovered. Teachers should be penalised for not eating the food before serving it to kids. It is a simple logic that teachers and workers would show more cautiousness if their own lives are at risk.

The midday meal coverage has increased from 104.6 million children in 2010-11 to 106.7 million children in 2012-13.

Experts are also raising the issue that the funds utilised per student is not enough to meet the standard and nutritional aspects of the cooked food and urging the Centre to look into this direction as well.

The midday meal guidelines provide for cooking cost at Rs 3.34 for primary classes and Rs 5 for upper primary classes per child per day for purchase of pulses, seasonal green leafy vegetables, salt, oil, fuel etc. This is needs to be revised as well.

Thus, there is an urgent need for some serious changes in this scheme which aims at attracting kids from underprivileged section of rural and urban areas to get educated apart from feeding them.

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