Bihar may be in the spotlight for its mismanagement of the Mid-day Meal Scheme but the human resource development (HRD) ministry has found that several state governments have failed to act on complaints about the programme year after year.
Following the tragedy in Chhapra in which 23 students died after consuming the lunch served in school,the ministry compiled complaints about implementation of the scheme from 2011 to July 19 this year from across the country and found there were 106 in all.
The list,accessed by The Indian Express,includes complaints about inedible meals making children ill,mismanagement,misappropriation of funds and corruption,among others and have been escalated to the ministry.
Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 25 complaints. Bihar is nearly as much in the dock with 16 complaints,many of them serious and unresolved. Bihar,in fact,is yet to respond to serious complaints about diversion of midday meal scheme foodgrain for other purposes as pointed out in CAG reports.
Haryana has 11 complaints to reckon with while Madhya Pradesh has 10. West Bengal does no better with nine complaints.
Complaints about the poor quality of meals served abound,with lizards,insects,fungus and worms found in the food. And it is common to see children fall ill after such meals.
Sample the nature of complaints against states: 126 students in a Delhi school fell ill after consuming a mid-day meal at a Sarvodaya Vidyalaya in 2011; 42 fell ill after consuming a meal with a lizard in it in two Haryana schools the same year,insects were seen in a meal served at an Assam school in November 2011; cockroaches in meal caused 22 children to fall ill in Delhi the same month.
The year 2012 began with reports of lizards in meals making 85 students ill in a Madhya Pradesh school and ended with news of 100 taking ill after a meal in a Jehanabad school in Bihar.
There have also been instances of teachers forcing children to eat a meal just like it has been reported from Gandaman in Chhapra this month. The December 2012 incident in Jehanabad is reported to have taken place after cooks and teacher in charge forced students to consume a meal.
Corruption,misappropriation of funds and other irregularities are other major complaints. This year,there have been four complaints from Bihar,with three of them being about alleged corruption,while Chhapra was the fourth.
The southern states appear to have done better. Barring Karnataka with two unresolved complaints,there is not a single complaint related to the programme from other southern states.
Reflecting the state governments lack of seriousness,the data shows that the number of complaints have also been on the rise. While 36 complaints reached the HRD ministry in 2011,the figure rose to 44 in 2012 and has already touched 26 this year.