Midday meals scheme: The politics of food harms those vulnerable

Aliya Abbas | Jul 17, 2013 

 Midday meals scheme: The politics of food harms those vulnerable  The Midday Meal Scheme was initiated in the 1960s involving provision of free lunch on working days in schools.

The key objectives of the programme include: Protecting children from classroom hunger, increasing school enrollment and attendance, improved socialisation among children belonging to all castes, addressing malnutrition, and social empowerment through provision of employment to women. The scheme has a long history, especially in Tamil Nadu as it was introduced by the then Chief Minister K Kamaraj in the 1960s and later expanded by the M. G. Ramachandran Government in 1982.

It has been adopted by almost every States after a landmark direction by the Supreme Court of India on November 28, 2001. The success of this scheme is illustrated by the tremendous increase in the school participation and completion rates in Tamil Nadu. NGO’s have a main part in the preparation of the midday meal scheme.

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However, the scheme was soon marred by several scams, which have been unearthed since it was started in 1960. Distribution of contract of Midday meal scheme is one of the most corrupt practice in the country.

In December 2005: The Delhi Police had seized eight truckloads (2,760 sacks) of rice meant for primary schoolchildren being carried from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns in Bulandshahr District of UP to North Delhi. When the Police detained the trucks, the drivers claimed that the rice was being brought all the way to Delhi to be cleaned at a factory. However, according to the guidelines, the rice has to be taken directly from FCI godown to the school or village concerned. Later, it was found that the rice was being siphoned off by a UP-based NGO, Bharatiya Manav Kalyan Parishad (BMKP), in connivance with the Government officials.

In January 2006: The Delhi Police unearthed a scam in the Midday Meal Scheme.

In November 2006: The residents of Pembong village under the Mim tea estate (around 30 km from Darjeeling), accused a group of teachers of embezzling midday meals. In a written complaint, the residents claimed that students at the primary school had not got midday meal for the past 18 months.
Mar 5, 2006: One of the leading national dailies reported that the midday meal scheme in Punjab schools was floundering rules badly. Government schools across the State were grappling with administrative neglect and an unresponsive Government that had resulted in abject failure of the scheme. Needless to mention the pathetic condition of classrooms.

In December 2006
:  A Times of India reported busted a scam involving Government schools that siphoned off food grains under the midday meal scheme by faking attendance. The modus operandi of the schools was simple—the attendance register would exaggerate the number of students enrolled in the class. The additional students would not exist—they were ‘enrolled’ to get additional food grains which were pocketed by the school staff. The scam was exposed, when P Asha Kumari, an assistant teacher at the Government model primary school, Jakkur, in Yelahanka acted as a whistle-blower. She informed the Lokayukta, who conducted a probe and indicted four persons for misappropriation. The whistle-blower was harassed by the school staff and requested a transfer. She was transferred to a Government primary school at Cholanayakahalli, where she again found the same modus operandi being used to siphon off the food grains. She again complained to the Lokayukta, who issued notice to the school.

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In March 26, 2012: School children did not receive the prescribed nutrition under the midday meal scheme in Goa, according to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India’s report. There was no check on the quality too as the State monitoring committee for the scheme did not meet even once from 2006 to 2011. A quantity lower than that recommended was served to the children for lesser number of days than required. The audit report also stated that during 2009-10 meals were served for 180 and 169 days, respectively, to 41,968 primary and 49,888 upper primary school children, as against the 200 and 220 days for primary and upper primary schools prescribed by norms.

ISKCON Food Relief Foundation: The ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (IFRF) was established in the year 2004 in Mumbai. The objectives of IFRF is to eradicate hunger and promoting education amongst the under-privileged sections of the society and thereby ensuring their socio-economic development.

Dec 24, 2006: According to a report in Times of India:  The egg became the bone of contention between NGOs, led by religious institutions, and the Karnataka State Government. The State Government’s one-egg per-week scheme, as part of the midday meal scheme, ran into a controversy with several NGOs refusing to distribute eggs with mid-day meals.

September 13, 2011: The Times of reported that schools in Mangalore and Bantwal taluks are taking measures after there were two reported cases of food poisoning in Puttur and Sulia. Children began vomiting after consuming the Akshara Dasoha meal. “We take care to see that food is safe; in fact, we taste it before serving it to children,” said headmistress Devaki, Higher Primary School at Munnuru, who bought steel plates for all children to maintain uniformity.

July 16, 2013:  Insecticides poisoned children, death toll rises to 22: Violent protests broke out on Wednesday outside the District Magistrate’s office in Chhapra district demanding action against  authorities after 22 children were killed after consuming poisoned midday meal on Tuesday at a Government primary school in Bihar’s Saran district.


Bihar midday meal tragedy: insecticide poisoning, toll rises to 22
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Criticism:

According to current statistics, 42.5 per cent of the children under 5 are underweight. This is due to simple reasons such as not using iodized salt. The country is home to the world’s largest food insecure population, with more than 500 million people who are hungry, India State Hunger Index (ISHI) report said. It also added that the country’s poor performance is driven by its high levels of child under-nutrition and poor calorie count. Its rates of child malnutrition is higher than most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa,” it noted. A report released as part of the 2009 Global Hunger Index ranks India at 65 out of 84 countries. 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.


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ABOUT AUTHOR

Aliya Abbas

Journalist, at present working with Nitidigital as Features Editor