Jolted by the death of 23 children in a midday meal tragedy at Chhapra, the Bihar government has made it compulsory for schools to purchase quality food items so that students get proper meals.
According to new guidelines, every school has to purchase mustard and vegetable oil bearing Agmark and other items bearing ISI mark, Director of Bihar Midday meal scheme R. Lakshmanan said in Patna on Sunday.
The purchase details were required to be entered daily in the register which would be checked by officials visiting the schools frequently for inspection, he said.
Mr. Lakshmanan said every school where the scheme is being implemented has to put up on the notice board details of foodgrains purchased and conversion cost every day for open scrutiny.
The new norms have been laid down in view of complaints of purchase of sub-standard raw materials for preparation of midday meals in the state’s schools.
Midday meal, flagship nutritional programme of the Union government, has been in force in 70,260 schools of Bihar covering 1.30 crore students and the Chhapra tragedy has brought the scheme under strict scrutiny.
It came to light that oil used for preparation of soya bean vegetable as part of midday meal programme in Dharmasati Gandaman primary school in Mashrakh on the fateful day on July 16 was kept in a dirty bottle that did not carry the name of the manufacturing company.
The government defence was that since the scheme is so enormous it is not possible to make any central purchase of food items and hence school principals had been authorised to purchase items. Many of them, including Meena Devi, principal of Gandaman village school might have taken advantage of the privilege and purchased sub-standard items for the programme.
Mr. Lakshmanan said the Principal Secretary of the Education Department Amarjeet Sinha and other officials, including himself, have been making frequent trips to schools to ensure that standard midday meals are served to students as per the guidelines.
The department has told the schools that they should reject lifting sub-standard foodgrains from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns.
He said preparation of a booklet containing details of first aid measures to be initiated in the event like that at Dharmasati Gandaman school is under preparation with experts’ help and would soon be made available to school principals.
Medical experts had said after the Chhapra midday meal tragedy that ailing students should have been given salted water for immediate relief but it was not known to the school authorities and others.
The department has also decided to paint in the schools elementary information and actions that need to be taken immediately in such an event, he added.