Special Correspondent

Akshaya Patra Foundation feels it can bring down dropout level

JAIPUR: The Akshaya Patra Foundation which runs mid-day meal programme for school children in Rajasthan and Karnataka has asked the Rajasthan Government to consider extending the facility to children up to the tenth standard. The mid-day meal scheme, launched in Jaipur in November 2004, is now catering to over one-lakh children from Class I to V.

"If the students up to Class X are covered that would ensure their continuing in schools. We can bring down dropout levels as maximum children leave school after Class V," said Abhay Jain, trustee of the Bangalore-based foundation which runs the world's largest school lunch programme. Mr. Jain was addressing journalists on the occasion of the programme crossing the mark of serving 100,000 children in the Pink City.

The Akshaya Patra programme now feeds 5.67 lakh underprivileged children in Bangalore, Hubli-Dharad, Bellary, Mysore and Mangalore in Karnataka and in Jaipur, Nathdwara and Baran in Rajasthan, Puri in Orissa and Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.

"Akshaya Patra has proven to be a strategic intervention in education as it provides an incentive to children to come to school. The nutritious meal increases the ability of children to concentrate on education, keeping them away from child labour," Mr. Jain observed. The mid-day meal programme, started with 300 children, now serves 100,447 children, a majority of whom belong to 641 primary schools and 203 anganwadis. Last September the Foundation had set up the biggest North Indian menu mid-day meal kitchen in Jaipur. The facility, inaugurated by Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, has India's biggest chapatti making machine, producing 10,000 chapattis in one hour. Additionally 300 women are employed to roll out hand-made chapattis to meet the growing needs of less privileged children.

Swami R. Govind Das, programme coordinator for Rajasthan, said the menu consisted of chapattis, dal, and a rice preparation, which is supplemented by halwa and fruit once a week.

The Swami said the programme of providing subsidised food to the needy, started by the Foundation here on an experimental basis, was proving to be a great boon to the daily wage earners.