Eleven-year-old Vidya clearly remembers the last time she ate a midday meal at school. It was three months ago,the day school authorities discovered a lizard in the food. She carries her own lunch ever since. On days she doesnt,I give her lunch money to eat chole-kulche outside school, her mother Sangeeta Devi says.
Sangeeta Devi isnt the only parent refraining her child from eating midday meals.
NGO Lakshya,which surveyed 2,000 families in Trilokpuri in the last two months,found that nearly 80 per cent of them were reluctant to allow their children to eat midday meals served in civic and municipal schools. And nearly all families believe that meals should be prepared in the school,instead of being outsourced,to maintain better standards and quality.
There are more than 900 schools in the city where children get midday meals that are prepared in 30 centralised kitchens.
The survey was conducted following the tragedy in Bihar,where 23 students died after consuming a midday meal served at a primary school.
More than 1,600 parents dont let their children eat the meals. Many said they preferred packing lunch for their children,after there were reports of insects in the food or of children falling ill from the meals, Sanju Kumar,who coordinated the project,says.
Instead of eating shoddy food and going to the hospital later,it is better to not eat the food at all. I dont want to save a few pennies to burn a hole in the pocket later, Avdesh Kumar,another parent,says.
While 99 per cent of children were not satisfied with the quality of meals,58.5 per cent said they had found the food contaminated at least once. Another 11.5 per cent reportedly fell sick after eating the meals,and 60 per cent of the families said they were afraid their children might fall sick. Close to 50 per cent preferred to carry their own lunch to school,and around 44 per cent gave the midday meal a skip entirely.
The survey also found that in 99 per cent of cases,there was no soap provided to students to wash hands after finishing their food. An overwhelmingly large number said the long time it took for the meals to be distributed had a serious effect on their studies.
Lunch break is supposed to be for 30 minutes,but schools usually serve 1,300-1,500 students,due to which the break inevitably gets extended to one or one and a half hours, 15-year-old Mahima,who helps out with midday meals distribution in her school,says.
The officials,however,say the meals are prepared in a clean environment. Midday meals are prepared in centralised kitchens and clean surroundings. Theres no question of contamination or the food being sub-standard, a senior official from the Education department said.
*2,000 families surveyed over two months
*1,600 parents dont let their children eat midday meals
*99% children not satisfied with quality of meals
*58.5% found the food contaminated at least once
*11.5% fell sick after eating meals
*50% preferred to carry their own lunch
*44% completely skipped midday meals