July 18: The vaunted free meal offered to draw hungry children to schools has turned poison for the students.
Across Bihar, several children came to school without plates, some simply refused to have their lunch and the rest thought it better to skip school for a day or two in the aftermath of the Saran midday meal tragedy. Even a government advisory asking the headmaster or teachers to first taste the food failed to persuade the children to eat.
“We have advertised in newspapers that the cooked meal should first be tasted by the headmaster or teacher of the schools before being served. This rule should be strictly followed and failure to implement it would lead to action,” the principal secretary, education, Amarjeet Sinha, said.
The government has also asked schools to ensure that pesticides and fertilisers are not stored with the food.
But the parents are taking no chances. Bhagalpur siblings Anand, 8, and Sunita, 5, did not bring their plates to school today, though they brought with them their slates and textbooks. The children have to get their own plates and bowls in which the food is served.
“We had mar bhar (rice and water) at home. We don’t want to die or fall sick by eating the food served in schools. Our parents told us we would die if we ate here,” said Anand, a student at the government primary school in Mundi Chowk in Bhagalpur town. Headmistress Kabita Patil said the students had refused the midday meal.
At another school in the district’s Nathnagar block, parents damaged an oven used for cooking the midday meal.
An official of the Bal Vikash Evam Parjaybaran Sanrakshan Sansthan in Bhagalpur said only a handful of students were willing to eat the midday meal. The NGO supplies food to 146 schools in Bhagalpur town as well as to schools elsewhere.
Amarjeet Singh, additional secretary in the Union HRD ministry, was told by students at Bishunpura Primary School at Jalalpur in Saran district that they had been forbidden by their parents to eat food served by the school.
In Vaishali district, the midday meal scheme — being run in 1,300 government schools spread over 16 blocks — has come to a grinding halt.
The Ekta Shakti Foundation, an NGO responsible for providing the meal in nine blocks, has told the midday meal directorate that it is withdrawing its services lest the flaws in the delivery system give it a bad name. In the remaining blocks, the meal is not being provided because of protests by parents.
In Gaya, the meal has been suspended at several schools. Mungeshwari Ram Manjhi, the only teacher at the Aerodrome Primary School which has 77 students from Classes I to V, said the guardians had refused to allow their wards to eat the meal yesterday and today.
However, lunch was prepared at a primary school in Chaurhar. School committee secretary Asha Devi said the guardians had asked her and the teachers to taste the food before serving the meal.