Watery dal, half cooked chapatis and mixed-veg, which looks more like a soup than a curry are what school-age children get, albeit if they are lucky, under the mid-day meal programme at MP’s Agar Malwa district.
Many children like those at the district’s Hadai middle school do not even get the “sub-standard meal” for months. Students at the middle school, about 19 kilometres from the district headquarters, have not received their mid-day meal ironically since August 15, the Independence Day.
When the 51st district of the state was created carving out of Shajapur on August 16, 2013, many thought implementation of the government schemes would be better. But three years down the line, a large number of school children in the district say the food they are being served under the mid-day meal programme are “not edible.”
To improve the nutritional-status of the school-age children and also to enhance enrolment, retention and attendance in schools, central government launched the scheme nationwide on August 15, 1995. Currently, nearly 12 crore children across the country are covered under the world’s largest school feeding programme.
In Agar district (urban and rural) the scheme covers 58,117 children from 657 primary schools and 298 government middle school and aided schools. To cater to the need of 955 education institutions, district has around 600 self-help group. According to an official figure government spent `2.87 lakh per day to serve the meal to the students in the district.
Norms set by the govt are blatantly flouted
During visits to the schools, the HT found that norms set by the government were blatantly flouted. Even the menu fixed by the government is not followed.
‘We are not served food as per the daily menu’
Deepa Tanote, 15, a middle school student of Mahudiya, about 14kilometre from district headquarters under Agar block said, “We are not served food as per the daily menu on a regular basis. The food which we are getting is also not up to the mark.”
When asked if they were getting halwa or kheer under the scheme, Tanote, said, “We don’t even know that we are supposed to get these delicacies.”
As per the menu chart, students are supposed to get Roti with chana dal and mixed vegetable curry on Wednesday. But the HT found that chana dal was missing from children’s platter at the school, while the watery mixed vegetable curry could be mistaken as a soup.
We curtailed the menu to only roti and mixed vegetable: SHG members
When asked about non-availability of chana dal, the SHG members said they were running behind schedule so they curtailed the menu to only roti and mixed vegetable.
Several middle and primary schools, particularly in the remote areas of the district even outsourced preparation of meal violating the norms allegedly to mint money.
The norms clearly stipulate that foods should be prepared at schools’ kitchen shed by local cooks or members of self-help groups so that children can get hot meal.
But several schools in the district either don’t have a kitchen shed or it is closed.
Worst, majority of the contractors or self-help groups don’t even have food license. Even officials admit the shortcomings, but claimed it was due to shortage of staff in the new district.
‘Several SHGs providing meal in schools don’t possess proper license’
Speaking to HT, one of the official, who is looking after the mid-day meal programme implementation in the district on condition of anonymity admitted that several SHGs providing meal in schools did not possess proper license to do the job.
“Yes several SHGs don’t have license. CEOs of zilla panchayats have written to them to get license at the earliest, otherwise department will take appropriate action against them. Department has formed four teams of eight officials to look into the matter,” the official said.
When contacted, CEO of Agar zilla panchayat Rajesh Shukla said they took action against the SHGs whenever they got some complaints but expressed ignorance about outsourcing of food preparation.
“We immediately cancel their contract and give it to other. Still, if we get any complaint through any medium — including parents, teacher or media, we will take action”.
On many schools taking food from contractors, Shukla said, “We always ensure village women associated with the SHGs get employment under the scheme. But if such practices are going on, we will definitely take action”.