Hours after The Indian Express published a report highlighting the plight of children from a Mahadalit village in Bhagalpur in the absence of mid-day meals due to the shutdown of schools, the Bihar government issued a statewide order to distribute ration to school children for three months and transfer money to their bank accounts, or to that of their guardians, in lieu of the food scheme.
The order was issued even as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) took suo motu cognizance of The Indian Express report and issued notices to the Centre and Bihar, seeking a detailed reply within four weeks on what it said was a “serious issue”.
On Monday, The Indian Express reported that children of the Musahari tola of Badbilla village were turning to rag-picking after the mid-day meal scheme, which guaranteed one stable meal a day, came to a standstill following the Covid lockdown.
In the order, Bihar Additional Chief Secretary (Education) R K Mahajan referred to the Covid shutdown and wrote: “In this situation, under the Food Security Act, for 24 working days in May, 30 days of summer vacation in June, and 26 working days in July (a total of 80 days), food will be given in fixed quantity to children and replacement cash amounts will be given by DBT into their accounts.”
The order states that children in classes 1-5 will get 8 kg of ration and Rs 358 via DBT, calculated on a daily rate of 100g and Rs 4.48 for 80 days. Students of class 6-8 will get 12 kg of ration and Rs 536, based on a daily rate of 150g and Rs 6.71 for 80 days, it states.
According to the Economic Survey 2019, there are 115 lakh children between class 1 and 8 who avail of the mid-day meal scheme in Bihar.
The Indian Express report also referred to an earlier state directive, issued on March 14, that mandated money to be sent to the accounts of children or guardians in lieu of mid-day meals for 15 days every month — Rs 114.21 for children from class 1-5 and Rs 171.17 for those from classes 6-8.
However, school teachers in Bhagalpur had told The Indian Express that many parents used the money for other purposes due to the lockdown distress. The new order will ensure that the children get food, officials said.
Subhash Gupta, District Programme Officer, Mid-Day Meals (MDM), Bhagalpur, said, “Payments under DBT were made until May. Now ration will be given after headmasters are notified from tomorrow. Money in lieu of oil and other food items, which was given during MDM, will also be handed over for three months.”
Monday’s order states that schools will prepare class-wise rosters, and call parents or guardians to receive the ration while maintaining strict health norms. “Under no circumstance will children come to school,” it states.
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Earlier, referring to The Indian Express report, the NHRC said notices have been issued to the Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Union HRD Ministry, and Chief Secretary of Bihar.
“This is a serious issue of violation of human rights. The right to life, food, dignity and equality of the children are being violated due to the negligent attitude of state authorities,” it said.
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