Students in various government schools of Bihar refuse to eat free mid-day meals as Centre announces a new committee to probe and monitor the quality of food served under the scheme.
Human Resource Development Minister MM Pallam Raju announced the setting up of a new committee "to go into the quality aspect of the Mid Day Meal Scheme nationwide," he said in a statement.
The announcement came two days after dozens of children died and fell sick at a government school near Chhapra, Bihar. In another government school in Madhubani district, 50 students were taken ill after eating the food under the mid-day meal scheme. The students alleged that a dead lizard was found in the food.
The mid-day meal tragedy continued in other states too. Sixty-six girl students fell ill after eating the meals served at a school in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu. Hundreds of students have been hospitalised during these unfortunate incidents.
Moreover, these incidents have turned parents skeptical about the government scheme and now refuse to even send their children to schools.
"Why should I? Should I send her to die? We will feed her. When she grows up, she will survive the way we have. She is not going to study," a farm labourer told The Hindu.
Some distressed parents are even considering shifting the future of their children towards farming, preferring illiteracy. Few, who are financially better, are planning to admit their children in private schools.
Union HRD Minister Raju said Bihar was warned about the unsatisfactory quality of the mid-day meals served in the state schools.
"We had alerted the Bihar government quite a few months back about shortcomings in its food storage," Raju told reporters. Among the 12 district alerted, Saran - where the midday meal tragedy hit first - was among the worst affected. The HRD ministry had expected an action plan from the state government.
The new committee being set up will look into the hygiene and quality of the food being served under the scheme across the nation.
This committee will meet every three months to assess the scheme. It will be headed by Raju himself and have 20 members with representation from civil society organizations and officers from related ministries, reported a news daily.
Indian social activist and former IPS officer Kiren Bedi said that a new panel will just add up as 'another layer of un-accountability' to the scheme.
The state government also announced a few measures in local newspaper and is set to release further protocols for state schools. One of them is to make first aid items mandatory in every school.