Thursday, January 23, 2014

Midday meal scheme: State waiting for a disaster

Midday meal scheme: State waiting for a disaster

Ashok Pradhan, TNN Jul 19, 2013, 02.21AM IST

BHUBANESWAR: At least three fact-finding reports in the last one year have pointed out the abysmally poor quality of food served in most unhygienic conditions in several schools under the ambitious midday meal (MDM) scheme in the state. The findings justify the rise in incidents of children falling ill after having free lunch in schools reported from Cuttack, Sundargarh, Ganjam, Malkangiri and Balangir districts recently. Government authorities, however, said enough checks and balances had been put in place to ensure quality meals for the children.
The reports by Right to Food Campaign, Odisha, a state-level forum of civil society groups, pointed out two huge flaws in the scheme in Deogarh, Malkangiri and Kalahandi districts - unhygienic kitchens and lack of monitoring in implementation of the programme.
The three-member team comprising state-level MDM monitoring committee member Pradipta Nayak, Right to Food Campaign state convener Pradip Pradhan and child rights activist Tapan Padhi, in a report, revealed that several schools of Karlapat, Melingpadar, Bhejiguda under Thuamul Rampur block of Kalahandi district had no cooking shed. At Bhejiguda Primary School in the block, the latrine is also used as kitchen. Schools in Bhejiguda and Podapadar used water from a nearby nullah (small water stream) for preparation of food.
The team, in another report, said in Tileibani Block of Deogarh district, Hiran and Tamper primary schools under Kansar panchayat had no kitchen at all. The scheme did not function for years at Raeda Primary School in Sodo panchayat while the kitchen was extremely unhygienic at Bhutel upper-primary school under the same panchayat.
They had pointed similar lapses at a school in Maklangiri district. Children were asked to serve meals at the Potrel school in the district while the cook and helper were not paid their dues for several months. The school did not maintain any MDM register either, they said.
"We had submitted all the findings to the government. However, MDM programme continues to run without proper supervision posing threats to thousands of schoolchildren," said Pradhan.
Pradipta Nayak, who is a private member of the MDM monitoring committee led by the chief secretary, said the panel should meet twice a year. Though the meeting is long overdue, it's not being convened. Nayak said in districts such as Nayagarh, rice supplied by Food Corporation of India (FCI) is being replaced by poor stuff during transport. "I can only pray to God that we don't face an unfortunate incident like the one in Bihar," he said.
The government, which used to spend Rs 3.61 per meal on an average, has revised it to Rs 3.79 for primary students and Rs 5.65 per upper primary students from July 1. "It is next to impossible to give a quality meal even with this revised sum," he said.
Government authorities said hygiene and quality were being given top priority. "There are multiple rounds of monitoring starting from the school managing committees to the highest level in the government. For transparency, menus of meals are being displayed on school walls. For hygiene, the government is in the process of constructing several open kitchens (without roof) where ever there is a need," said state MDM nodal officer Gangadhar Sahoo.
Around 58 lakh children in 63,673 schools in the state get midday meal.

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