| Sonia Gandhi |
New Delhi, July 19: UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi has questioned the laxity in monitoring of hygiene, safety and quality of food in midday meal programme against the backdrop of the death of 23 children in the state after consuming meal in a rural school.
Sonia called the human resource development (HRD) minister M.M. Pallam Raju yesterday and expressed strong displeasure over the monitoring of the programme. She expressed her sadness and concerns over the death of the kids, a source said.
She asked Raju to set up a fresh committee to study the quality aspects of the food, storage facilities in schools and issues related to procurement of grains.
Raju has already announced plans to set up the committee. The ministry today tentatively finalised the terms of reference and members of the panel. It is learnt that the committee would be headed by Raju and would comprise of National Advisory Council (NAC) member N.C. Saxena, former chairperson of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) Shanta Sinha and secretaries of few other ministries such as women and child development, health and food.
The committee is expected to study the matter expeditiously and come up with concrete actions plans.
The midday meal programme is a flagship scheme of the government aimed at addressing classroom hunger by providing hot cooked meals to children everyday the school is open. Several studies have suggested that the scheme has helped in improvement of attendance in government and aided schools. The government spends around Rs 10,000 crore a year on this scheme.
The mishap in a school in Saran has raised questions over the safety and hygiene aspects. The ministry had earlier received several complaints about children falling sick after taking meals in schools in various states. But there is no report suggesting death of children after taking meals in schools. This is first incident where children have died.
The ministry had earlier alerted the Bihar government about the poor quality of food served in schools in 12 districts, including Saran. While the scheme says the food should be tasted by at least two adults and a teacher, the schools hardly bother to follow this guideline. The involvement of parents in monitoring the scheme is also minimal, sources said.