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Smell a rat in the midday meal? You bet and it stinks

Teachers of a government primary school didn’t serve midday meal to students after the principal discovered a rat in the food on Friday.

The incident happened at Government Primary School, Saidpur. The food that was served to the children consisted of pulao and dal. Non-government organisation Ekta Shakti Foundation supplies the meal to the school.

Manju Kumari, the principal of the primary school, said: “While serving the food to the children, I found a dead rat in the dal. I immediately stopped serving the food to the children.”

The primary school students of classes I to V refused to eat the meal and even staged a protest, backed by local residents.

The protesters blocked the Saidpur-Bhikna Pahari Main Road for hours, but neither any official from the education department nor from the district administration reached the spot. In fact, though the incident occurred around 1pm, education minister P.K. Shahi was unaware of it till 6pm.

When asked about the incident, Shahi said: “I don’t know about the incident as no official from the education department has informed me about it.”

This is not the first time such an incident has happened, claimed the school principal. “We had earlier come across objects like nail and electric wire in the meal. Despite making several complaints to Ekta Shakti Foundation, they have not taken any initiative to improve the standard of food.” The officials of Ekta Shakti Foundation were not available for comment.

According to Rajeev Ranjan Prasad, the professor at Patna Medical College and Hospital, if the children had consumed the food it would have led to severe food poisoning or gastroenteritis.

Neelam Kumari, a Class V student of the Government Primary School, Saidpur, said: “When we came to know that the rat was recovered from the meal, we immediately refused to take the meal.” On most days, many students don’t eat the meal, as it doesn’t taste good.

The school authorities could only inform the directorate of midday meal two hours after the incident took place, as they didn’t have their contact number.

Apart from the primary school, a middle school also exists on the same premises. But the authorities of the middle school, too, didn’t take any initiative to inform the midday meal directorate.

Rita Chakraborty, the principal of the Government Middle School, Saidpur, said: “Since the incident happened at the primary school, it is their duty to inform the directorate.”

Midday meal director R. Laxmanan said: “The team comprising senior officials from the midday meal directorate has visited the school to assess the situation.”

Action will be initiated against those responsible for the incident, Laxmanan said.

The Friday incident once again raises questions regarding tall claims of the education department about supplying hygienic food to the children.

The state education department claims to have taken several initiatives to provide hygienic food to the students of government schools.

The education department, especially after the Gandaman incident in which 23 children had died after consuming poisonous food, issued several instructions such as food being tasted before it is served to the children. It is not clear whether the food was tasted either by the officials of Ekta Shakti Foundation or the school on Friday.

Second, the education department has talked about of community participation in the midday meal scheme but on Friday, the authorities of the nearby middle school didn’t take the initiative to inform the midday meal directorate or the education department regarding the issue.

Third, the education department also spoke about issuance of toll-free number written on the walls of schools. No such number was written on the walls of the school on Friday.

Manoj Kumar Yadav, a resident of Saidpur, who was present during the incident, said: “The government wakes up after any major incidents, but the situation becomes the same after few days.”