Over three lakh school teachers in Bihar have decided to pull out of the government-run mid-day meal programme, the latest casualty of the July 18 catastrophe which had left 23 children dead in a primary school in Saran district.
The pull-out will come into effect from Friday.
The 23 children were killed – and many more hospitalised -- after consuming mid-day meal laced with poisonous organo-phosphorus, in a huge setback for the world’s biggest government-sponsored school feeding programme.
The school’s headmistress Meena Devi – who is absconding along with her husband -- has been identified as the main accused in the case, which had triggered nationwide outrage.
Bihar State Primary Teachers’ Association president Barajnandan Sharma announced the decision on Tuesday evening after a meeting of the association -- attended by district heads to chalk out a strategy in the wake of the Saran incident -- unanimously decided to boycott the MDM.
“We have time and again requested the government in writing to involve teachers in academic work only and hand over MDM to some other agency, but to no avail. Teachers are meant for teaching and they should not be burdened with all kinds of non-academic work,” said Sharma.
Apparently not too impressed by the government’s conspiracy theory suggesting that the headmistress may have intentionally poisoned the students, he said, “No teacher can ever think of giving poison to students. There may be mismanagement. Human error also cannot be ruled out. But putting the blame on the teachers even before inquiry is completed means they are being made the scapegoat”.
“MDM is a source of corruption and teachers can do without it,” he added.
The association’s decision came on a day when the ministry of human resource development held talks with education secretaries of all states to put in place a contingency plan to deal with Saran-like incidents and ensure strict compliance of guidelines, like teachers tasting food before it is served and procurement of foodgrains in sealed containers.
Sharma said that teachers and headmasters have to invariably manage MDM with third grade stuff, underweight bags and corruption at every level. “Who does not know this? But if something happens, a teacher’s head is put on the chopping block, as if he or she has done all the wrong,” he added.
The association has also decided to organise a dharna near R-Block on July 31 in protest against the “anti-education policies” of the government.
Reacting to the teachers’ decision, education minister PK Shahi said it was difficult to arrange an agency for MDM in 72,000 schools across the state.
“The teachers are doing it as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines. The state does not have the resources to engage another agency. The Saran incident is a blot on the state. Otherwise, it is a matter of trust on teachers. There is a question mark over the quality of MDM across the country,” he added.
Shahi said the government had roped in the services of a charitable organisation, for MDM. “We have requested them to serve food to one lakh students. They will have automated kitchen, but that will still be an insignificant number compared to the huge task of serving food to 1.60-crore students. But it is an experiment we are trying. Let’s see how it goes,” he added.