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An ambitious scheme gone awry

J.S. Ifthekhar
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All that they get:Children having food at Mekala Mandi in Bholakpur on Thursday. The government allots just Rs. 4.25 a student towards the cost of a meal.- PHOTO: NAGARA GOPAL
All that they get:Children having food at Mekala Mandi in Bholakpur on Thursday. The government allots just Rs. 4.25 a student towards the cost of a meal.- PHOTO: NAGARA GOPAL

It has taken the Bihar tragedy to galvanise officials here to check the quality of food being supplied under the midday meal scheme in schools. A flurry of activity was seen on Thursday, with Vani Mohan, Commissioner and Director, School Education, visiting some schools in the Nampally zone. She inspected the food quality first hand and interacted with students and staff.

Getting wind of her visit, several schools took extra precaution to spruce up the premises and serve food in a clean environment. But such inspections are few and far between. “There is no regular monitoring, and for months together no official comes to enquire about the midday meal,” a teacher said.

While no untoward incident has been reported in the city, the quality of the food supplied leaves a lot to be desired. A common complaint from children is that the meal served is always “cold”. The centralised kitchen at Uppal run by the Nandi Foundation cooks food at 6 a.m., and it reaches schools by 10.30 a.m. Naturally, it is not steaming hot when the lunch bell goes at 12.30 p.m.

This apart, a look at the quality of rice and watery curry is enough to kill one’s appetite. This year, teachers say, the rice quality is slightly better. But complaints abound about water content being more in ‘dal’ and other curries.

Often children are left searching for non-existent vegetables. Shockingly, the government allots just Rs. 4.25 a student towards the cost of vegetables and LPG. “With vegetable prices shooting up, what kind of vegetables can be cooked?” asks a teacher.

No wonder, not many children relish the food. They show interest only when items like ‘khichdi’, vegetable biryani and ‘pulihara’ are served. Some children just eat boiled eggs and banana and leave the rest untouched. Another problem facing them is lack of plates and glasses.

There is no budgetary provision, and teachers themselves have to pool money to purchase plates. Owing to shortage of plates, several kids have to wait till others finish their meal. Poor water facility is another hitch, and the result being some eat well past the lunch hour.

Mandal Educational Officers (MEOs) are supposed to regularly monitor the operation of the scheme. But in Hyderabad, out of the 24 MEO posts, 20 are lying vacant. And headmasters are given full additional charge of MEOs, with the result that there is no monitoring for months together, it is said.

In Hyderabad district, 71,534 children from classes I to X in 944 schools and 6,895 children in 69 madrasas are availing the scheme. Interestingly, the government has kept this welfare scheme in the green channel for speedy clearance of bills so that the quality does not suffer for want of money, officials say.

Even as no incident of food poisoning has been reported, the quality of food supplied at schools in the city is poor, and most children complain that they are served ‘cold’ stuff


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