First came the Centre, ordering an egg every week in the mid-day meal in 2013. Then state chief minister Hemant Soren beat it by promising two more eggs a week in 2014. The newly formed BJP government just upped the game. Apart from the 43 lakh students above 6 years, the state has promised to give free eggs at least once a week to lactating mothers and children under six.
But it is not all egg-citing as it’s cracked up to be.
“We inspected a few schools in rural Palamu, Koderma and Garwah. It was surprising to see that most of the rural schools did not offer eggs or even nutritious food for Mid-Day Meal,” said Manoj Yadav, a member of the state commission for protection of child rights. Let alone eggs, some schools in the rural areas did not even offer free lunch to students, he said.
Jharkhand is one of the states with the highest number of malnourished children. There have been complaints by activists that the meal served doesn’t meet the nutritional standards set by the RTE Act. While the rule prescribes sufficient protein (eggs and soybean) for the beneficiaries, several schools have been reported to be serving only khichdi (a mix of rice and lentil).
Recently, a plan to give eggs to students was nixed in Madhya Pradesh, also a Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state with high number of malnourished children, after its hard-boiled vegetarian chief minister baulked at the idea.
Jharkhand has always struggled to implement nutrition schemes, said child rights activists. When the Congress-led central government included eggs in the mid-day meal, the state could manage to feed only students in the urban areas. The main reason why the state fails to supply eggs to rural schools is because of the rate it quotes to buy egg, claim HRD sources.
The state gives `4 for one egg, while the market MRP is not less than `5. The urban schools get their share of eggs in subsidised rate of under `4, but the ones in the interiors avoid serving eggs as the cost of an egg, including transportation charge, goes above `6 per piece, said members of school management committees. HRD secretary Aradhna Patnaik said she received mixed reports after inspections.
In some areas there are surplus eggs in the same fund, while in some areas eggs are not served due to fund crunch”.
The students’ claim to their rightful share of nutrition has even led to violence.
A para teacher was booked this week for beating up 20 children at a school in Koderma for demanding eggs in their meal.