The implementation of Mid-day Meal scheme has been assessed as “very poor” in a report based on a survey conducted in six major districts in Delhi by a non-government organisation.

“Right to Education entitles every child to free mid-day meals with a different and nutritious menu for each day of the week. The idea seemed nice but the truth was ugly,” the survey conducted by Joint Operation for Social Help (JOSH) reveals. The survey was conducted in 1,425 households and 29 schools in several areas of Daryaganj, Nizamuddin Basti, Timarpur, Munirka, Malviya Nagar and Rithala.

The survey, which covered mainly major slum and resettlement colonies, was done to check the ground realities of the implementation of the RTE, which marked its deadline in March 2013.

The fact that most of the slum inhabitants were aware that their children were entitled to MDM, a fact repeatedly highlighted by the report, indicated its initial but very humble acceptance.

The report underscored a variety of interesting insights and observations about the scheme. The quality of the meals received a thumbs-up in South Delhi while there were major complaints in Central and North Delhi. In some districts, a good number of students were taking lunch from home since they found the mid-day meals “too unhygienic or bland”.

In some areas, besides complaints of delayed delivery, meals not being delivered at all were also reported. Most of the children, however, even if they wanted to have a variety, had a bigger problem, not with the menu but quality.

“Not well-cooked, sometimes rotten”

Fifty per cent of the parents and 40 per cent of the students in the Nizamuddin and Sarai Kale Khan neighbourhood said that the mid-day meals given in school were of “poor quality”. A large number of children carried food from home and said that they ate the MDM food only when they could not bring any.

Students interviewed in the Basti complained that the food was not well-cooked, was sometimes rotten and a times even adulterated.

Two of the children, Kesha and Hamza, complained of the poor quality of the MDM. They told JOSH volunteers that occasionally the rajma served to them had worms. They were threatened by the teachers not to report this to their parents or else they would be beaten up. Many of the parents said that either the quality of food should be improved or the MDM scheme should be scrapped altogether.

However, in the outlying areas of the Nizamuddin Basti such as Khusro Park, where parents earn their living by doing petty jobs such as driving rickshaws or menial tasks, the beneficiaries of the scheme said that the quality of food served was good, and that one of the reasons they sent their children to school was because they were given food in school.

The contradictory opinions in the Basti, noted the report, could largely be attributed to the difference in their economic status. “Those who could afford good and healthy food were the ones who complained about the quality of the mid-day meals, while those who could hardly afford food had no problems with the MDM.”

In Timarpur and its surrounding areas of North Delhi, 53 per cent of the parents surveyed said they were not satisfied with the quality of food being served in school. “There have been instances when insects like cockroaches and things like stones and wood have been found in food,” said the report.

There were also a few schools where students claimed that the meals were checked almost daily after some students complained but the quality hardly improved.

Children in Munirka slums spoke of the food scheme with a lot of admiration and even liked what was being served to them.

There were, however, some complaints regarding the quantity being served to them. “Some students complained that they were given only two ‘pooris’ with ‘sabzi’ which is clearly not sufficient for them,” noted the report, adding that most students gave suggestion to add more variety like noodles, paranthas, chhole bhature to the menu.