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Thursday , April 24 , 2014
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Rat rattles school meal scheme
- Over-cautious institutions baffled over foodgrain supply, space, cook and quality of service

The ambitious lunch programme failed to resume in most of the government institutions in Patna five months after a dead rat was found in the midday meal of a primary school.

The authorities concerned had temporarily stopped the midday meal service in 210 schools in Patna.

The scheme was stalled because on November 22, 2013, a dead rat was found in the meal supplied by non-government organisation Ekta Shakti Foundation to the Saidpur school.

The NGO was awarded the task of preparing and supplying meals to the schools in Patna.

Now, even after a gap of five months, most of the schools in Patna are not providing the midday meal to the students. Officials associated with the distribution and monitoring said there were some “teething problems” regarding the scheme.

“We have to check the status of the meal scheme, as we have not been able to do so because of the ongoing elections. What we know as of now is that in some schools in Patna, the programme has been re-started and the meal is being prepared,” an additional district magistrate-rank officer said on Wednesday.

But the senior officer was quick to add that there were quite a few schools where the service has not resumed.

“The officers concerned are busy with the elections. In some schools, foodgrain have been supplied. We don’t know the specific number of schools where the scheme has been re-started. But there are schools where the programme has not resumed,” he said.

Sources said the suspension was in the wake of the Gandaman meal tragedy, which had shaken the state on July 16, 2013.

“The state government was on its toes since the 23 children of the primary school in Gandaman died after having poison-laced midday meal. Later, when the rat was found in the meal of another school, the programme was stopped immediately and Ekta Shakti Foundation was asked to discontinue its services,” the officer said.

However, the administration has not been able to act fast as expected.

“Once the non-government organisation was removed from the job, the task of monitoring the food quality was given to Vidyalaya Shiksha Samiti. The samiti members look after the midday meal programme of a group of schools in a particular area. The members of the samiti are mostly parents whose children study in one of the schools in that particular group. Earlier, cooked food was supplied to the schools but now the authorities have decided that foodgrain would be sent to the schools every month and it would be prepared on the institution premises. The members of the samiti would keep a close eye on the preparations. However, there are some problems which need to be ironed out,” he said.

First, there are schools where foodgrain have not reached. “But it would arrive soon. Also, there is a problem of space in many schools and unavailability of cooks,” the officer said.

School heads, too, agreed with the officer. Leela Kumari, the principal of the Government Middle School in Saidpur, said the school has received the foodgrain but they have not been able to start the meal process.

“The school has just one room and a small courtyard to fit in 123 children. We received three sacks of foodgrain in March but we do not have the space to cook. After the Gandaman tragedy, we have to be extra cautious or else the blame would fall on us in case of a similar tragedy. We have to ensure that there is proper space to cook in a hygienic way. We have one cook but we will need one more because the number of students have increased,” said Leela.

Unavailability of cooks was also a huge setback for the proper implementation of the welfare scheme.

“There are schools which don’t have cooks. The previous NGO was supplying the food so some schools showed the cooks the door because they were not required. Now, that the food has to be cooked on the school premises, the institutions need to have full-time cooks. However, the authorities are taking all possible measures to ensure that the programme starts in all the government schools in Patna as soon as possible,” another officer with the administration said.

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