REPORTS HAVE intermittently been appearing in the Press about bad quality of food being supplied to schoolchildren under the ‘midday meal’ scheme.
While it is heartening to note that the authorities concerned have become more alert and it seems the inspections and reporting of their results have been intensified, what is galling is the persistence with the usual menu of chapatti and daal or Sabzi.
Inexplicably authorities do not seem to realise that food mass-cooked in a single centralised distant kitchen for thousands of schoolchildren of around 300 widely spread schools cannot be supplied fairly early every morning either fresh or of specified quality.
Just because the government has entered into an ill-advised contract with the Nandi Foundation, an NGO that seems to have considerable clout, does not mean that public money should continually be wasted on the indifferent quality of food that it supplies endangering health of the schoolchildren, simultaneously, jeopardising the campaign of universalisation of primary education.
Every contract has to have an escape clause and, surely, there should be one in this case as well. If, for some reason, the current menu cannot be changed it would be advisable that the food is supplied from several, not one, kitchens, preferably run by women’s groups so located that these could supply food cooked early in the morning, not overnight, to a cluster of schools situated nearby. Women’s groups running smaller kitchens are more likely to ensure quality than a huge one running overnight with sloppy supervision and lax quality control.
If this, too, is not found workable, supply of dry but nutritious packaged food – even stuff like well-made panjiri, suitably fortified with nuts and raisins– would seem to be the only alternative.
The current arrangements are, quite obviously, unworkable and need to be reviewed with a view to ensuring that children do not skip schools merely because of the lousy food that is supplied to them. Needless to emphasise that much of the country’s future well-being depends on the success of our mass educational programmes.
Proloy Bagchi Bhopal