Some of the oil bottles collected by the administration in Tapan block. Picture by Santanu Ghosh
Balurghat, Jan. 4: The South Dinajpur district administration has stopped midday meals for nearly 30,000 kids since Wednesday after mustard oil used for cooking was found to be freezing, raising suspicion of adulteration.
The district administration became alert after the mustard oil was found to have frozen at several of the 715 Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) centres.
All the ICDS centres are in Tapan block in South Dinajpur district, around 30km from Balurghat town.
Aloke Majumdar, a faculty at the chemistry department of North Bengal University, said mustard oil would freeze if the temperature is below zero°C. “If the oil freezes at a temperature which is higher than 0°C, there must be some other component in the oil,” he said.
According to sources, on Wednesday, some block officials were told that the mustard oil used for cooking the meals was freezing.
The administration immediately instructed the centres to stop cooking the meals.
In its directive, the block administration made it clear that unless fresh stock of mustard oil reaches the centres, midday meals must not be cooked.
The administration has started seizing the unused bottles of the oil from all the centres.
Sources at the BDO’s office in Tapan said on Wednesday, ICDS workers of the Rampara-Chanchra area found that the mustard oil had become solid.
“They informed Bhaskar Ghosh, the child development project officer (CDPO) who is in charge of the ICDS at Tapan.
Ghosh told them to stop cooking. The workers were also asked to collect all the bottles of the oil and take them to the local panchayat office.
Soon, around 500 such bottles from 85 ICDS centres had been deposited there,” an official said.
Apprehending that the kids of the block may fall ill, local residents started demonstrations in the area on Wednesday.
The villagers were calmed down by George Lepcha, the BDO of Tapan.
Sources said children from six months to six years are permitted to take the food cooked and served in the ICDS centres.
There are around 5,000 such centres in eight blocks of South Dinajpur and around 1.5 lakh children are covered under the mid day meal scheme.
“On the basis of information that mustard oil, meant for cooking at the ICDS centres of Rampara-Chanchra, had frozen inside the containers, I rushed to the spot. Mustard oil does not freeze in winters. When the guardians and local people alleged that the oil might be adulterated, we thought we should not take any risk and instructed the CDPO to stop the meals from being cooked in all the centres. We cannot afford to compromise with the health of children,” Lepcha said.
“We have ordered seizure of all such oil bottles from all 715 centres across the block. Cooking would commence when fresh supplies reach the centres.”
The BDO said the oil bottles are supplied by the West Bengal Tribal Development Corporation, a state government undertaking, which has been provided with the franchise to supply mustard oil to ICDS centres of the district.
“We have collected samples and written to the supplying authority, seeking an explanation. Also, the new samples have reached us. The SDO of Balurghat has also been provided with a detail report,” Lepcha said.
Ghosh said the block officials were still collecting the mustard oil bottles from centres.
“More that 600 bottles of oil, each containing a litre, have been seized. The collection process is on,” he said.
Local people, while commenting on the issue, expressed shock.
“On Wednesday, we saw some of the anganwadi (ICDS) workers dumping mustard oil bottles. When we spoke to them, they told us about the adulteration,” Mostakina Bibi, a resident of Rampara village in Tapan, said. “Our children may face serious health hazards.”
“Right now, no child is getting the meal because cooking has stopped,” she said.