?School Chalo? or ?Hospital Chalo?? | india | Hindustan Times
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?School Chalo? or ?Hospital Chalo??

IT WAS Narasimha Rao?s plan, very ambitious in content as it came with the much-hyped slogan ?School Chalo?. The architects of the unique programme were of the view that the midday meal programme would serve as an incentive to parents to send their children to school for studies rather than to fields or factories for work. In other words, an increase in attendance in schools and thus rise in literacy rate of the country.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2006 00:45 IST

IT WAS Narasimha Rao’s plan, very ambitious in content as it came with the much-hyped slogan ‘School Chalo’. The architects of the unique programme were of the view that the midday meal programme would serve as an incentive to parents to send their children to school for studies rather than to fields or factories for work. In other words, an increase in attendance in schools and thus rise in literacy rate of the country.

Though many had then itself dismissed the scheme as implausible because of operational bottlenecks, Rao had gone ahead with its launch in style. He himself served food to students in a school somewhere down South in the mid-1990s.

At that time dry food, popularly known as ‘panjiri’, was served.

But perhaps now the time has come to either review the Central Government scheme or change its name from ‘School Chalo’ to ‘Hospital Chalo’ in Uttar Pradesh. Over the last one month, in a healthy weather of winter, students in hundreds have fallen sick after consuming cooked meal. And it’s strange that hardly any heads have rolled though the state government had made the district magistrates solely responsible for the implementation of the scheme.

At least they should be asked to explain whether the cooked meal had contained 300 calories and 12-gram protein or contaminated elements like ants and lizards?. Or the grains they got were not worthy of human consumption, totally rotten? Otherwise, why should children fall sick to the extent of being hospitalised if an adult had actually tasted the food as per the laid-down norms? Yes, on paper the scheme seems foolproof with several checks and crosschecks to eliminate any possibility of sickness. But still students are being rushed to hospitals almost every second day.

Though Uttar Pradesh has hit the headlines, news emanating from other states is also not very heartening. In fact some states have not yet implemented the scheme because of poor infrastructure etc. Quite a wise move as the twin purpose of implementing the scheme is totally defeated -- first to attract kids to school: Elementary literacy is key to economic development of any country and second to save children from malnutrition.

The states had demanded proper infrastructure for implementing the scheme, which starts with procurement of food grains from FCI godowns. In other words the scheme required three stages - planning, infrastructures and supervision.

The executing chain is pretty long but judiciously so the responsibility of providing nutritious cooked meal was entrusted to gram pradhans, nagar panchayats and some NGOs who, it is believed, are more sensitive to local requirements as well as local populace.

But if one connects the sloppy implementation of the programme to the money power commanded by the gram pradhans, one would not be absolutely wrong to link it with pilferage besides poor implementation of such schemes. Or how do gram pradhans amass such wealth? Or why the stakes are so high in gram panchayat elections? If the stakes are high because of the social work involved then why children are falling sick?

BV Krishnamurthy, a noted economist, had criticised the government for ‘supplying the calculus of the private grocery merchant to a matter like education’. And he was not wrong.

From the very beginning there has been a question mark on the success of midday meal programme for primary schools, which former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had aspired to raise up to class ten. The issue throughout has been the quality of the meal served. Either it was not attractive enough to get students to schools or it made them sick.

Whatever, the entire scheme and its implementation need to be reviewed, as we cannot allow children to die. Political parties are unlikely to raise the issue, the bureaucrats are too busy to get emotional by few deaths, gram pradhans have more lucrative jobs to attend to than shed tears for them. And if it came to choosing between deaths and illiteracy perhaps the nation would prefer illiteracy.

So Mr Minister don’t fumble with words, instead either gear your machinery into action or suspend the implementation of midday meal scheme.