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Assam: Students refuse to eat ‘poor quality’ midday meal served by NGOs in Silchar

From November 1, the responsibility of serving midday meals in schools has been given to NGOs in Assam. Cachar Deputy Commissioner said while no official complaint had been received about the quality of food, the matter is being looked into.

Written by Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha | Silchar |
Updated: November 5, 2019 10:28:49 pm
midday meals in assam, midday meals served by private NGOs in assam, midday meal workers protest in assam, indian express, latest news On Monday, protesting midday meal workers vandalised an NGO’s food truck at Ram Nagar in Silchar. (Express Photo: Biswa Kalyan Purkayastha)

Thousands of school students in Silchar did not eat the midday meal served to them by NGOs on Monday, protesting against what they said was its poor quality. Students and teachers also said the food was served over two hours late in several schools.

While midday meals are generally provided by the government, from November 1 in Assam, the responsibility has now been given to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The move has been met by protests from midday meal workers, and on Monday, after 15 days of protests, some of them vandalised an NGO’s food truck at Ram Nagar in Silchar.

When a vehicle with the food reached DNNK School, it was well past the recess. According to the teachers, the quality of the food was so poor they refused to serve it to the students.

School authorities said: “The quality of the food is so poor that our teachers are not ready to taste it before we allow our students to have it. The vehicle arrived after 2.30 pm, when it was supposed to reach us at noon.”

The principal of the school, Paritosh Dey, questioned the quantity too. “We have more than 300 students studying in the school but the quantity they sent could only be served to 50. The quality was such that we refused to serve it to our students,” he said.

Some students of the school said, “We cannot eat this food, it smells bad and we suspect it was cooked last night.”

By the time the vehicle reached the school, parents had already arrived to take their children home, and they too were dissatisfied with the quality of the food. One parent said: “The potato curry had a foul smell while the daal was just turmeric with water. The delivery boy had no clue what he was serving, he said his job is to deliver the food and not check the quality,” said an angry guardian.

Complaints came in from Narshing High School, Netaji Vidyamandir Girls High School and others. In schools like Malugram Girls High School, Ram Kumar Nandi Vidyalaya and Abhyacharan Pathshala, no food was served. Principal of Abhayacharan Pathshala said he bought biscuits and served them to his students as midday meal.

Midday meal scheme provides food for students up to Class 8, but some schools would serve food cooked in their kitchens to senior students too. Rumi Dhar, a senior teacher, said they would provide the food to every girl student. “With the new policy, all these students will be deprived,” Dhar said.

Deputy Commissioner of Cachar, Laya Madduri, said she had not received any complaint about the quality of food. “I am not sure about the poor quality of food but I have directed my food inspector to look into the matter. None of the schools or students have lodged an official complaint yet,” she said.

The authorities did not provide a list of NGOs providing food to the schools from where the complaints were received. Attempts by to reach the NGOs through their delivery staff did not get a response.

At Ram Nagar, where one NGO’s truck was vandalised, the agitating workers claimed what they threw away was “poor quality food”.

“The NGOs are serving bad food and we won’t allow them to do this. We don’t want to waste food, but we have to protest against their poor quality,” a worker said. The workers are supported by Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU).

“We visited the place where these NGOs are cooking food. They are not maintaining hygiene. We had a food chart that included soya bean, eggs and other nutritional items. But the NGOs are only providing rice, dal and aloo bharta (potato curry),” one worker alleged.

Working president of Karmchari Parishad Cachar, Sudip Bhattacharjee, suggested the local administration should include self-help groups for the work. He said, “Outsider NGOs do not understand the taste of this locality. If the government wants to involve non-government organisations, they should appoint SHG workers in this.”

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