504 students in Maharashtra have suffered food poisoning from mid-day meals in five years
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504 students in Maharashtra have suffered food poisoning from mid-day meals in five years

Experts said school children are bearing the brunt of policy failure as they are being served poor-quality meals

mumbai Updated: Dec 14, 2017 14:27 IST
food poisoning,health,Mahrashtra
Bal Vikas Vidya Mandir, Jogeshwari, where the incident occurred on Wednesday. (Satyabrata Tripathy/HT )

In the past five years, 467 students across Maharashtra suffered food poisoning after eating mid-day meals, revealed an RTI. On Wednesday, the number went up to 504 after 37 students of the civic-run Bal Vikas Vidya Mandir, Jogeshwari, were rushed to a nearby hospital after eating khichdi for lunch. It is the ninth incident of food poisoning registered in the state since 2013.

Activists alleged that such incidents were an outcome of the massive gap between resources provided by the government and quality of work.

Vinod Shende, a member of Nutrition Rights Coalition, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), said the children were bearing the brunt of policy failure, resulting in them being served poor quality meals.

“First of all, the cooks are paid Rs1,000 per month to clean raw material, segregate it and cook. With deadlines in place, they try to wrap up the work at the earliest. This affects the quality of food. Secondly, several schools lack cooking sheds and storage centres. Meals are prepared in the open, thus multiplying chances of contamination owing to insect and rat droppings, among others,” said Shende.

Chetan Kothari, who had filed the RTI, said the state and Central heads will have to furnish a detailed report on the mid-day meal issue within eight weeks.

“Over 75 cases of mid-day meal poisoning have taken place in the last five years across the country and even the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has taken a note of it. In a recent hearing, the NHRC asked the officials to take appropriate action and submit a reply. We won’t let the matter rest until its resolved because it is related to children’s health,” said Kothari.

Response to Kothari’s RTI query revealed more than 4,000 children have fallen ill across India after eating poor quality mid-day meal. Reasons cited for contamination of food were mismanagement, oversight of hygiene and lack of precautions, among others.

The issue of children being served poor quality meals in schools was raised at the ongoing winter session of the legislature. A clarification was sought from education minister Vinod Tawde over the efficacy of the programme if it was not benefitting the students.

Tawde was also questioned over the use of low quality raw materials, lack of hygiene maintained by the contractors responsible for cooking and delivering mid-day meals, measures taken to check the quality of food and action plan to ensure that such incidents do not occur in the future.

He said owing to shortage of space in urban areas, the food was cooked and delivered from a Central location by women from self-help groups.

“There are some incidents of food poisoning, owing to consumption of mid-day meal, but we have taken administrative and legal action against some of the offenders,” said Tawde.

He added that the government initiates action against contractors who use raw material of poor quality and immediately change the stock. However, Tawde failed to furnish data on number of cases filed against offenders.

First Published: Dec 14, 2017 14:25 IST