Two states where the Congress came to power last month appear to be on two different plates over one ingredient in the mid-day meal scheme for children: the egg.
While Madhya Pradesh has so far opted to continue with the previous BJP government’s no-egg policy, the Chhattisgarh government Wednesday introduced the nutrient on the menu.
The order issued by Chhattisgarh’s School Education department includes a caveat: if children or parents have an objection to eggs, milk or other nutrition-rich items would be provided. But the directive has already drawn flak from the BJP for “imposition of this idea” on those who “do not eat non-vegetarian food”.
Unlike Chhattisgarh, the Congress does not enjoy a clear majority on its own in Madhya Pradesh, where the party is playing safe. Officially, it is yet to take a call on a ban imposed on eggs in anganwadis by former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
“A discussion on the topic was recently held in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department but no decision was taken… The previous BJP government did not even suggest an alternative to eggs,” said official sources.
Bhopal-based Right-to-Food campaigner Sachin Jain said the large tribal population in the state “will welcome eggs on the anganwadi menu”. “They were denied the protein-rich item under pressure from one section of the community. The egg is not only a good source of protein, but also easily available,” he said.
In 2010, Chouhan had famously declared that he wouldn’t let eggs be served as long as he was in charge, while addressing a 1,000-strong gathering of the Jain community. At 5.67 lakh, Jains constitute only about 0.78 per cent of the state’s population, according to the 2011 census, but wielded enormous clout during the previous BJP regime.
In Chhattisgarh, the government said that its order is based on an assessment conducted in 2017-2018 of random midday meal samples from 19 of the 27 districts, which found that only in two cases were the required calorie count was met.
A report prepared by the school department stated: “In 18 of the 58 centres, the necessary protein intake was met by a mark of 85 per cent and above, and only three saw them fulfilled one hundred per cent.”
It recommended: “On the menu, for at least two days in the week, eggs/milk/items of similar nutritional value should be given. If the children or parents have an objection to eggs, then milk or items of similar nutritional value should be given.”
Welcoming Wednesday’s order, Gangaram Paikra, a Right-to-Food campaigner, said: “Both nutrition and attendance will go up. We had campaigned vociferously for this with the last government as well.”
However, Sachidananda Upasne, senior state BJP leader, is far from impressed. “There are so many people, such as Brahmins and others from the majority community, that do not eat non-vegetarian food, and don’t want to be near it. If giving eggs is such a priority, the government should deliver them to homes, not in public spaces. This, in a way, is disturbing traditions,” he said.
But Gaurav Dwivedi, Secretary, School Education, was quick to respond. “There is no imposition at all… as the order says, if people choose otherwise, other items will be made available. It is clear that nutritional deficiencies have an impact on learning,” he said.