Inchworms float in a big bowl of sambar that was served to 340 students of Rajkiyakrit Harijan Madhya Vidyalaya in Jamshedpur on Friday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
The recipe for sambar received a gruesome midday meal twist in Jamshedpur, garnished with inchworms and causing 340 schoolchildren to go home hungry.
Several inchworms — the name for moth larvae of family Geometridae — were found on Friday in sambar served to children of Rajkiyakrit Harijan Madhya Vidyalaya, Sitaramdera, as part of the midday meal cooked by Iskcon Food Relief Foundation.
Rajkiyakrit Harijan Madhya Vidyalaya is one of the 388-odd schools in the city and neighbouring Seraikela-Kharsawan where Iskcon delivers food cooked from its centralised Ramdas Bhatta kitchen.
Around 340 students from Classes I-VIII were served sambar and rice at 10am. Within minutes, five students came up and showed teacher-in-charge Shashikanta Minz the “pillu” in sambar. Minz, on examination, confirmed they were inchworms and asked children to throw their food away.
“We asked the children to throw away their lunch. I hope nobody falls ill,” added Minz.
The incident is chillingly reminiscent of the 2009 tragedy in Govindpur, Dhanbad, when 60 children fell ill eating their midday meal, not knowing a dead snake had been in the pot.
“I was mixing sambar with rice on my plate when I saw worms. We rushed and showed them to our teachers,” said seventh grader Rukmini Kumari, who went home hungry.
Angry parents informed MLA Raghubar Das, who visited the school to take stock.
Later, district education department officials visited the school, spoke to teachers and inspected the residual food.
Taking the matter seriously, district education office showcaused the foundation for “callousness”. The new district superintendent of education Abhay Shankar said though this was the only school where worms were found in food, incidents like this would not be tolerated. “The matter concerns children. We are taking it seriously,” he said.
“What needs to be investigated is if inchworms were present in the sambar or in the school’s utensils. We are probing into the matter,” said Prakash Kumar, additional district programme officer, East Singhbhum.
Iskcon started its pilot midday meal project in the city in April 2012, a hi-profile one whose foundation stone was laid by chief minister Arjun Munda in July 2011. The Rs 4.28 crore kitchen is the result of its collaboration with Tata Steel. Iskcon foundation and the state jointly promised that students would get fresh and hot vegetarian food of the mandated 450 calories.
When The Telegraph contacted Sanjay Tikku, director of Iskcon Food Relief Foundation, Jamshedpur, he said he was in New Delhi but had been informed about the incident.
“It is unfortunate that something like this has happened. We take ample measures to prevent contamination. With huge quantities to prepare everyday, it is bit difficult. Still, I have asked people to check vegetables thoroughly,” Tikku said.