The mid-day meal tragedy in Bihar has spurred the authorities here into taking preventive steps but non-government organisations monitoring the scheme remain sceptical about the hygiene.
North Delhi Municipal Corporation Mayor Azad Singh on Wednesday went on a surprise inspection of four kitchens which prepare food for almost 4.5 lakh children studying in civic body schools.
The scheme covers 18.75 lakh primary and upper primary students across 3,038 schools in Delhi. The last time the scheme was in the news for the wrong reasons was in November 2009 when a severe case of food poisoning was reported from a Delhi Government-run school in Trilokpuri, leading to 120 children falling sick.
When it comes to the nutritional quality, food has consistently failed to meet the minimum standards.
Over the past three years the results have been shocking. As per a report, 83 per cent of the samples collected in 2012-13 were found deficient in calorie and nutrition.
It was worse in the previous years: 95 per cent in 2011-12 and 99 per cent in 2010-11.
During Azad Singh’s inspection on Wednesday, samples of food being prepared were collected and sent to the Shriram Laboratory for a quality check. “I have categorically told non-governmental organisations which prepare food that even the slightest compromise with hygiene will not be tolerated,” Mr. Singh said.
The Mayor also said he had given directions to “all civic body schools not to serve food to children before its quality is tested by a five-member committee constituted for this purpose.”
But Aheli Choudhary from JOSH, a non-governmental organisation monitoring the implementation of the scheme, claimed that the committee remained only on paper.
A survey conducted in six major districts of Delhi by JOSH revealed that the implementation of the mid-day scheme was “very poor”. Ms. Choudhury claimed that schools continued to serve unhygienic food, with parents of children complaining that wood pieces and bidis were present in the meal.
“The general pattern we have come across is that families which can afford food prefer not to have their children eat the mid-day meal provided in schools,” Ms. Choudhary said. Even those who are extremely poor and cannot afford food for their children said if they had a choice, they would not want their children to have the food provided under the scheme, she said.
“The 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 JOSH survey revealed.
Fifty per cent of the parents and 40 per cent of the students in Nizamuddin and Sarai Kale Khan said the mid-day meals given in school were of “poor quality”.
Students interviewed in Nizamuddin Basti complained that the food was not “well-cooked”, was “sometimes rotten and at times even adulterated, the survey added.