Saran, the district in Bihar where 22 school children died after eating the midday meal, may be an extreme case of negligence which is rare. But it is a fact that the food given to children under the midday meal scheme is of poor quality and no one oversees hygiene or checks the taste before it is served to them. We know of instances when children go without food because there is a ‘shortage’ of foodgrain. Is this what we call food security?
The death of 22 children has shocked and angered me. We must make democracy more participative so that people are part of government programmes such as the midday meal. Had parents been involved, they would have made sure that the food given to their children was safe. I am angry over the inequality, corruption, inefficiency, lack of political will and middle class apathy in our country. If we do not feel guilty when we put roti into our mouths today, we must seriously examine our conscience.
It will be long before the credibility of the midday meal scheme is restored. The administrative apathy which resulted in the death of the 22 children will be hard to forgive.
Our midday meal scheme is acclaimed as a crucial welfare programme across the world. Man-made tragedies such as the one that occurred in Saran should not be allowed to cast doubts on the programme itself. It is unfortunate that despite crores of rupees allocated by the Centre to the scheme and the huge amount collected as cess, nothing worth mentioning has been done to improve the midday meal scheme or the infrastructure facilities in schools.
That the headmistress of the Gandaman primary school ignored the matter even after some children complained about the bad smell and taste on Tuesday and coaxed them to eat it is unpardonable. Her apathy cost the lives of 22 children. The government should deal with the school authorities firmly.
One hopes the suggestion in some sections of the media that organic phosphorous was mixed in the oil used for preparing the midday meal is not true. But if it turns out to be true, those responsible for the mischief should be awarded the maximum punishment under the law.
Besides teaching, teachers today are laden with multiple responsibilities such as supervision of mid-day meals, distribution of books and uniforms, collection of fees, maintaining written and virtual records, and extra classes during vacations. They are expected to do all this for the same pay. This is one of the reasons that has led to callousness. I would suggest hiring special workforce in schools for each task. This will not only encourage transparency but also generate employment and help fix accountability.
Keywords: mid-day meals poisoning, Bihar school tragedy, midday meal deaths, Chapra district, Nitish Kumar government, organic phosphorus content, food poisoning, Mid Day Meal Scheme, universal primary education, man-made tragedies, food safety standards