Unpalatable truth

Four in every five self-help groups and NGOs supplying midday meals to 3.8 lakh students in 1,174 primary schools in the city offered poor quality in 2012-13

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Mumbai | Published: July 24, 2013 12:35:41 am

The midday meal scheme claimed 23 lives in Bihar. Mumbai may not be far from a similar tragedy.

BMC data show the quality of food provided in city schools has deteriorated over the past three years.

Around 240 (80 per cent) of the 328 self-help groups (SHGs) and NGOs supplying midday meals to 3.8 lakh students in 1,174 primary schools offered poor quality in 2012-13.

The number of SHGs fined for cutting quantity or supplying khichdi lacking in nutrition increased from 105 (32 per cent) in 2010 to 208 (63 per cent) in 2011-12.

Of the 328 samples tested last year,65 per cent were short on calorie and protein content.

BMC,which spends around Rs 3,000 per student under the scheme,has over the past three years collected more than Rs 13.5 lakh in fines from organisations supplying substandard midday meals.

“There is a mechanism at the ward level to check quality of food being supplied in schools. Khichdi samples are regularly sent to the BMC laboratory,” said Mohan Adtani,Additional Municipal Commissioner.

Activists and child rights organisations,however,said there was lack of monitoring and poor quality food was being supplied to students.

“All schools do not monitor quality. In some cases,the principal checks if the food is hot and of good quality. In other schools,there are no daily checks,” said Kumar Nilendu,General Manager-Development Support (West Region),Child Rights & You.

A survey of five schools in the western suburbs conducted over two years by CRY and its partner found the quality of khichdi very poor.

“The quantity was also less than what a child is entitled to per day,” said Nilendu.

The survey also found leftovers were wasted and children were bored of the menu and sought variety such as poha,sheera,and idli.

Nitin Wadhwani,who heads Citizen Association for Child Rights,said BMC was not monitoring quantity,quality and variety in each school.

“Schools should have a stringent mechanism to check and ensure contractors serve quality food. For example,rice procured from Food Corporation of India might be of good quality but contractors might replace it,” he said,adding that if the middle-class was not able to afford green vegetables,it was unlikely BMC contractors would include greens in children’s diet.

Meanwhile,after repeated complaints against SHGs,BMC has written to the state government to allow it to hire agencies with centralised kitchens to supply midday meals. The government is yet to reply.

“Centralised kitchens are best suited to supply meals in large quantities. These kitchens do mechanised cooking,have hi-tech grain sorting machines and ensure better hygiene and cleanliness,” said Adtani.

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