A BMC official has offered a tested solution to salvage the government-sponsored mid-day meal scheme, after the deadly fiascos in Bihar and Tamil Nadu.
The chairman of BMC’s education committee, Manoj Kotak, wants the government to centralise the meal preparation with Iskcon -- a non-profit religious-cultural society. He believes the organisation is better equipped to maintain hygiene and food safety standards than the women’s self help groups that usually cook the meals.
“A centralised kitchen, contracted to a non-profit organisation like Iskcon, will ensure quality food for children,” he claims.
In Bihar, 23 children died recently after consuming poisonous mid-day meals. Around 100 students took ill in Tamil Nadu yesterday after eating the government-sponsored lunch at school, while worms were found in a school kitchen in Amritsar. The horrifying incidents have sparked outrage among parents and rights groups, with people demanding scrapping of the scheme.
“We have requested the government to give the contract to Iskcon, a non-profit organisation, but it is not open to the idea of a centralised kitchen. Many women organisations given the contract of the meals are affiliated to political parties. Prone to irregularities and interference, they may not be able to maintain food quality. We will strongly insist that the government give the contract to Iskcon.”
Concurring in the sentiment, Rahul S, social activist working for a city-based NGO, said, “Most BMC schools give the contract of making khichdi -- a staple in the meal -- to Iskcon, Bachat Gat women’s group and other self-help groups. I feel that if the contract is given to a society like Iskcon, and the women’s group is merged with it, both quality and jobs can be sustained. The women can be trained by Iskcon to make meals for all of the state’s schools.”
A sample test
Offering another recommendation, Rahul S said, “We have a school management committee devoted to improving quality. The committee members give their review periodically and the food is tasted by teachers, who submit reports on a daily basis to the BMC. The civic body tests the food once a month in their labs. I don’t know how many aided schools follow this procedure, but it is vital in ensuring salubrious meals.”
But there are reservations to the idea. Jayant Jain, president of All India Federation of Parent Teacher Association (PTA), said, “The contract should not be given to any one organisation, because that might lead to monopoly. Politically linked organisations should be avoided as well. Ideally, the government should closely monitor the agencies preparing the meals to keep up the quality.”
He added that the meal menu also needs to be given some thought. “Students are not eating khichdi as they are bored of eating the same item every day, and it then goes to waste. There should be a variety of healthy dishes in the meal,” he said.
Children who avail of the mid-day meal scheme through Iskcon in Maharashtra