A midday meal delivery van stands idle at Ramdas Bhatta in Jamshedpur on Thursday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Fifty-two thousand underprivileged children of Jamshedpur and Gamharia in adjoining Seraikela-Kharsawan went without midday meal on Thursday, a cruel fallout of the Bharat Bandh that forced Jharkhand to stay indoors on Thursday.
The success of the bandh meant that either government or aided schools eligible for midday meals stayed shut or BJP workers and other protesters on the road stopped drivers from ferrying food to cradles from the centralised kitchen run by Iskcon Food Relief Foundation at Ramdas Bhatta.
This resulted in a colossal waste of cooked rice. Huge mounds of cooked rice — between 15 to 20 quintals, according to rough estimates — were seen lying on the premises of the kitchen.
It is baffling why such huge quantities of rice were simply allowed to rot instead of being distributed in slums.
The kitchen, which caters to 390 schools in Jamshedpur and Gamharia, could manage to send food to only around 25 to 30 schools on Thursday. On a normal day, the centralised kitchen cooks and parcels 25 quintals of rice.
Dal and a curry, which are add-ons in the midday meal, were also wasted on Thursday but in far lesser quantities compared to rice, said kitchen in-charge Ramesh Kumar.
An official of Iskcon Food Relief Foundation said their vans were stopped at Adityapur bridge, Bhalubasa, Mango bridge and near Tatanagar station. “Some drivers were also assaulted. They decided not to risk going further to the schools,” he said.
Most food-laden vans came back to the kitchen, drivers complaining that they were beaten up by bandh supporters.
In-charge Kumar, who took an injured driver to Tata Main Hospital, said trouble started brewing since early in the morning.
“We cater to 72 morning shift schools between 6.30am and 11.30am. But today, we could reach only 25 schools. Private-aided schools were closed. Even if some were open, the number of children was scarce. I also got calls from headmasters who told us that schools were closed but we had despatched food by then,” he said.
But, he did not give the complete picture. Schools like Balak Madhya Vidyalaya in Jugsalai and GEL Church in Mango stayed open but did not get meals.
Ashraf Ali, the head of the Jugsalai cradle, said the children kept waiting well after school hours for their lunch.
“School ends at 11.30am. Finally, at 12.30pm, I called kitchen officials, who said the van could not reach us. We did not get midday meal and kids went home hungry,” he said.
District superintendent of education Indubhushan Singh said the situation was such that it was not possible for the kitchen to cater to schools.
“The problem lay in the fact that we could not tell the kitchen to prepare less food as we could not do so officially. Some vans could not reach schools, some did only to find that the schools had downed shutters. I feel bad that thousands of children did not get lunch and so much food was wasted,” said Singh.