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The midday meal controversy in Karnataka

The Karnataka government’s midday meal programme in schools has run into controversy with one of its NGO partners in the mammoth welfare exercise, International Society for Krishna Consciousness’s subsidiary Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF), refusing to include onion and garlic in cooking.

Following this, the State government has not yet signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to continue the programme with APF that supplies food to 4.49 lakh students in government and government-aided schools through its centralised kitchens in several cities.

In Bengaluru alone, it provides meals to 1.83 lakh students across 1,212 schools.

In November, the Department of Primary and Secondary Education directed the foundation to include onion and garlic in the noon meal and start supplying hot milk instead of cold milk to the students. While the foundation has started supplying hot milk to some schools on a pilot basis, it has categorically said it will not add onion and garlic.

Why does it matter?

An official of the State Food Commission said it had received complaints about students skipping the midday meals as they did not like the taste of the food without onion and garlic, which are an integral part of the food culture among most communities.

Children skipping meals is worrying because malnutrition is a serious issue. According to the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS) data for Karnataka (2015-2016), 36.2% of the children below the age of five are stunted, while 26.1% are wasted. The survey also reveals that 10.5% of the children were severely wasted, while 35.2% are underweight.

The Central Food Technological Research Institute has sent a report to the Department based on its earlier research findings that both onion and garlic were found to enhance the bioaccessibility of iron and zinc from grain.

But the institute has stated that during its survey across 270 schools in Mysuru district between January and May 2017, it found the average calorific value of the meals supplied by the APF was more than a school-cooked meal. The APF has said in a statement that its cooked meals are in compliance with the nutritional norms prescribed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

What is the government’s stand?

Principal Secretary S.R. Umashankar said a final call would be taken after considering the feedback from students and teachers. The APF has had a series of meeting with several stakeholders, including officials of the State Food Commission and the Education Department. The government will have to either accept the dietary norms of APF or make alternative arrangements for supplying food.

Are health activists worried?

Around 145 health activists, experts and citizens, who are part of the Right to Food Campaign and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have written to the Ministry of Human Resource Development and the Chief Minister, stating that children are eating less as they find the food bland.

Sylvia Karpagam, a public health doctor and researcher who is one of the signatories, argued for cooking culturally appropriate food in de-centralised kitchens.

Activists have also demanded that eggs be served as part of the midday meals as it is a good source of protein. They want the contract with the APF terminated, and meals prepared by self-help groups and other community-based organisations in accordance with nutritional norms and cultural practices, using fresh local produce.

Veena Shatrugna, a clinical nutritionist and former Ddeputy Director of the National Institute of Nutrition, said, “Normally, phytates and oxalates found in vegetarian diets precipitate iron and zinc and prevent their absorption from the gut. Onion and garlic appear to enhance absorption of these minerals.” This is significant, she pointed out, because around 50% to 70% of children in India are anaemic.


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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 12:05:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/the-midday-meal-controversy-in-karnataka/article25920843.ece

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