The Human Resource Development Ministry on Thursday announced that a new committee would be set up to review the implementation of its flagship mid-day meal scheme with a view to monitoring the quality of food and ensuring hygiene standards.

This will be in addition to the existing panel that meets twice a year to review the implementation of the programme and gives its feedback to the States.

The new committee, likely to be headed by Union Human Resource Development Minister M.M. Pallam Raju himself, will have 20 members and have representation from civil society organisations, officers from related Ministries and other stakeholders. It will meet every three months.

It will also look into the effectiveness of the food supply chain and kitchen hygiene standards.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a function here, Mr. Pallam Raju said the mid-day meal scheme was very important for promoting primary education in the country.

Replying to the questions, Mr. Raju said Bihar was alerted about the unsatisfactory quality of food served in government schools in 12 districts, among which Saran — the worst-affected district — was one.

A scheme review report of the Department of School Education and Literacy released a week ago, however, had said that “Bihar has improved tremendously on the coverage, utilisation of food grains, cooking cost, transport assistance and honorarium to cook-cum-helpers. Although the coverage of children in the State is still below the national average, it has gone up to 67 per cent from 43 per cent last year.”

Meanwhile, the Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF), a non-governmental organisation supplying mid-day meals to 1.3 million school children daily across several States, said this massive and complex activity was being viewed in a over-simplified manner.

“It is viewed merely as converting raw materials into meals and serving to children. The schools employ simple womenfolk for cooking the meals in school kitchens. The women who cook at home for 5 to 8 people cannot automatically cook for 100 or 200 children,” said Chanchalapati Dasa, vice chairman of the NGO.

In a statement here, the APF said: “The [necessary] operational skill-set and food safety considerations in a home kitchen and school kitchen are very different.”

Little attention was being given to existing concerns over the cleanliness of drinking water and storage and serving spaces, it said. There was need for convergence between the departments involved and the schools must be made completely safe to support the meal programme.India has the world’s largest school meal programme: feeding 12 crore children in 12 lakh schools.

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