Bench issues notice to Centre and 12 States

The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to the Centre and 12 States seeking their response on steps taken to ensure cleanliness in the midday meal scheme and to prevent incidents like the one that occurred last month in a government primary school in a Bihar village, where 23children died after eating contaminated food.

The States to which a Bench of Chief Justice P. Sathasivam and Justice Ranjana Desai issued notice, returnable in four weeks, on petitions filed by Antarashtriya Manav Adhikaar Nigraani and Sanjeeb Panigrahi, are Bihar, Odihsa, West Bengal, Assam, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Jharkhand.

The petitioners said “there have been a number of deaths and incidents of vomiting by children in different parts of the country, mostly in Bihar, Odisha, Haryana, West Bengal, after eating unhygienic mid-day meal.”

In over 12 lakh government-run and aided schools across the country, children received free, cooked lunch every day but “they are constantly exposed to the risk of food poisoning and related health hazards due to a lack of mid-day meal infrastructure and proper monitoring of the scheme,” the petitioners said.

When children fell sick, “there is a backlash against the whole programme from parents and teachers.” There was also a failure to meet standards in terms of calorific value of meals, quality of food, and micronutrients. It was noticed that inspection of foodgrains was not being undertaken. The petitioners sought a direction to the respondents and authorities to enforce procedures in the interest of hygiene and safety of children, and to initiate criminal proceedings against the persons responsible for death of children caused by contaminated or poisonous meal.

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