Right To Food Campaign organises public hearing

Even as the alleged mismanagement of the Mid Day Meal (MDM) programme became a raging controversy in the State, a State-level public hearing organised to check the veracity of the allegations on Tuesday witnessed a flood of complaints on implementation of the scheme.

At the public hearing organised by the Right To Food Campaign, Odisha, students and parents complained that schools lacked proper kitchens for cooking and dependable source of drinking water.

“Food is often prepared in an open yard or under extended portion of schools that lacked rainproof roofs. Over a period of time, the same place becomes a breeding ground for insects. If children are served contaminated food despite a hue and cry over the issue time and again, then it is a shame for us to be a part of this system,” said Pradip Pradhan, State convener of the Right To Food Campaign.

Mr. Pradhan said, “Absence of teachers is also affecting the programme.”

Some parents from Kalahandi district said that teachers hardly come to the village school. “Food is prepared only on the day the teachers make an appearance.”

Another issued highlighted was the way Dalit students were made to sit at a distance when the meal was served. In several schools in Kendrapara district, the discrimination was still prevalent, parents alleged.

Arabind Behera, a former bureaucrat, who heard the complaints, said there should be proper kitchen with hygienic water source in all primary and upper primary schools. The programme should be inspected by mothers’ committees, he advised.

Speaking on the occasion, Rabi Das, veteran journalist, said there was a systematic programme to weaken the government-run education system.

“As school infrastructure is deteriorating, students are discouraged to attend school. At the same time, private schools across the State are prospering,” Mr. Das pointed out.

Jury of the public hearing recommended that the unit cost of food be raised in order to ensure quality.

MDM programme is implemented in 63,000 schools across the State. The Centre shares 75 per cent of the expenditure.

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