Security and traffic restrictions imposed whenever VIPs visit Mahabodhi temple in Bodh Gaya in Bihar occasionally force the children in a nearby school to go hungry.
After the Indian Mujahideen triggered a series of blasts at the temple in July this year, security measures around this world-famous Buddhist pilgrimage site have been strengthened. Five people were killed in the blasts.
The school, in Mastipur, half a kilometre from the temple, has 99 students aged between six and 12, belonging to the poorest of the Dalit families. The meals, which encourage the poor families to send their wards to school, have become the casualty of the heightened security.
At times, traffic restrictions do not allow commercial vehicles, including pick-up vans carrying cooked mid-day meals, beyond the traffic barrier a kilometer from the temple. This happens especially during VIP visits to the temple or in the event of security alerts.
On December 2, the children were not given the meal. The same day Bihar assembly speaker Uday Narayan Choudhury was to inaugurate the International Tipitaka Chanting Ceremony.
In the wake of the largest post-blast international congregation of Theravada Buddhists, attended by 3000-odd monks, security bandobast was unusually tight.
Later in the evening, ambassador of France in India Francois Richier was also temple bound.
In fact, the schoolchildren did not get meals even on July 8, a day after the blasts, when security had been tightened. Again on July 10, they went hungry when Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde visited the blast sites along with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and party leader Ambika Soni.
School principal Kaushalendra Prasad said, “Sixty of our children, who attended school on December 2, did not get mid-day meal, as it was not supplied.”
The Ekta Shakti Foundation, a Delhi-based NGO, is responsible for the supply of cooked mid-day meals to children in 162 schools of Gaya. Given the proximity of the Mastipur school to the Mahabodhi temple, it is always challenging for the NGO to convince the dodgy cops for a smooth passage to the school during a VIP visit to the temple.
Chief coordinator Sanjay Gupta Parmendra Prasad partially blamed the cops.
“Our vehicle, carrying cooked meal, was not allowed to pass through the traffic barrier on December 2. At times, I have to reason out with cops and even make them speak to the school principal on my mobile phone (the principal testifies to this), leading to delay. Even traffic snarl-ups add to our worries,” said Prasad.
Deputy collector and district in-charge for mid-day meals Mohammad Shafique said the NGO has not informed the administration about the problem.
“If this is the case, we will issue special and priority vehicle passes for their vans, but the NGO first needs to inform us in writing,” Shafique said.