ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dignity, Not Mere Roti

The mid-day meal tragedy is reflective of the denial of human dignity to the underclass.

What a terrible tragedy! Their parents had sent them to school to study, but they died after eating the mid-day meal there. The death of 23 children studying at a primary school in the village of Gandaman, close to the town of Chapra in Bihar’s Saran district, after they consumed the mid-day meal of rice and soybeans on 16 July has caused widespread indignation, shock and disquiet. The food, served free as part and parcel of the “National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education”, popularly known as the Mid-day Meal Scheme (MDMS), has been found to have contained the deadly insecticide monocrotophos. Was this calamity waiting to happen?

Programme Evaluation Report Number 202, dated May 2010, a “Performance Evaluation of Cooked Mid-day Meal” by the Planning Commission, had reported that a large proportion of children (in the sample schools) in Bihar were of the opinion that the food served was of bad quality (our emphasis). This report had also warned of the “unavailability and poor functional condition” of kitchen sheds and store rooms, and, in general, a “visible shortage of basic infrastructural facilities” and human power, crucial for the success of the MDMs. Further, the health department was in no way involved in the monitoring of the MDMS. Indeed, the Steering-cum-Monitoring Committees constituted had not been holding any regular meetings to monitor the programme at the block/village level. Nevertheless, the MDMS had been “successful in addressing classroom hunger in (the) sample schools” and “seems to have contributed to an increase in the attendance in schools across the country” (the sample was from 17 states).

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