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Milk for children: but how practical?

Bageshree S.

Scheme to provide eggs to children has been put on hold

The DPI has listed out problems involved in distributing milk 58 lakh students are covered under Akshara Dasoha scheme

Bangalore: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy backtracked on the decision to provide eggs to children as part of the midday meal scheme under severe pressure from religious heads and his coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party in mid-January. Now a letter sent to the Government from the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) should set him thinking on the practical implications of feeding "satvik" food instead of eggs to the 58-lakh school children of Karnataka covered under the Akshara Dasoha scheme.

In a letter written to the government a fortnight ago, the department has listed out the practical problems involved in distributing milk to government schools across the State in place of eggs.

To begin with, how is milk, which is procured early in the morning, going to be preserved in all the government schools till afternoon, asks the letter. The Government will then have to provide cold storage facility at all the schools, which will obviously mean a huge additional cost.

Speaking to The Hindu , Commissioner of the Department of Public Instruction M. Madan Gopal said it would also involve the elaborate procedure of testing milk brought together from various sources. "We need apparatus such as the lactometer for quality checking," said Mr. Gopal. The letter also raises the crucial point of nutrition agreed upon by health experts across the world: that an egg is much richer in nutrient value than a glass of milk.

The most crucial practical problem, said Mr. Gopal, refers to the costs involved in giving children milk in tetrapacks to ensure quality and to prevent contamination. The DPI has already made enquiries with the Karnataka Milk Federation and found out that 200 ml. of milk in tetrapack will cost Rs. 6, much above the cost an egg, which is less than Rs. 2. More importantly, Kolar is the only place in Karnataka which has the facility to make tetrapacks. The logistics involved in either supplying milk packs from there to the rest of Karnataka or opening new centres to make tetrapacks are mind-boggling.

The DPI has also suggested that School Development and Management Committees, which also have parents on their boards, be asked to take a call on the issue.

Mr. Kumaraswamy, who had said that his Government was committed to providing eggs to children, put the decision on hold, following a series of protests by Hindu and Jain religious heads. Dalit and progressive organisations have criticised them for what they call an undemocratic move that disrespects the food habits of a majority of people.

Moreover, most children and their parents are in favour of introducing eggs in the midday meal, according to an Education Department survey. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt in the Tamil Nadu example, where eggs are given to children thrice a week.

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