News / Asia

In India, Mid-Day Meal Deaths Prompt Increased Scrutiny

In India, Mid-Day Meal Deaths Prompt Increased Scrutinyi
X
October 23, 2013 5:29 PM
Police in northern India this week charged a principal with murdering 23 children, who died in July after eating a school lunch contaminated with pesticide. The tragedy has prompted the government to take a second look at the country's mid-day meal program - said to be the largest such scheme in the world. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from New Delhi.
Aru Pande
At two o’clock in the afternoon, the courtyard outside the Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya government school in the Indian capital is packed with 1,100 students, all lined up for the day’s free, hot lunch.
 
Twelve-year old Rahul Bharti crouches among his friends, dipping the puri, or flat bread, into the chickpea curry. He knows full well the importance of this meal. “If the food is not distributed, all the kids will go hungry,” the eighth-grader said.
 
His statement is not an exaggeration. India’s mid-day meal program is seen as instrumental in providing food to youngsters who may otherwise go without in a country already battling high rates of malnutrition. In India, nearly half of all children under five years old are underweight. The scheme is also credited with increasing school enrollment.
 
While some states have had such programs in place for years, the Indian Supreme Court in 2001 directed all government-run schools to provide cooked meals to primary school children. Nationwide, the program feeds at least 110 million kids in 1.2 million government schools.

Feeding millions in need

But serving up lunch on such a huge scale is not without its challenges - which were brought to light in July of this year when 23 primary school children died in the impoverished northern state of Bihar after eating their mid-day meal.
 
The principal was allegedly alerted to a foul smell coming from the food but insisted it be served anyway. The students fell ill almost immediately. Many died on the way to the hospital.  Lab results found traces of highly toxic insecticide in the cooking oil, which had been stored in the principal’s home, along with the other provisions. The principal fled the school during the incident and was arrested days later.  Police in Bihar have charged her with murder.
 
The tragedy has prompted the government to take a second look at the country’s mid-day meal program.  Human Resource Development Additional Secretary Amarjit Singh heads the nationwide mission. 
 
“It was a very sad accident. It should not have happened. There should be zero tolerance for such accidents,” he told VOA.
 
Singh says there were three major failures in the Bihar case: the school did not have a separate kitchen and storage area that was free from potential contamination, the principal failed to taste the meal despite being alerted by the cook, and the school did not have an emergency plan. Parents struggled to find ambulances to transport their sick children to the hospital.
 
He also says the central government is working with states to address the shortcomings, and has already stepped up training for master cooks in states including Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Assam.
 
“A cascade model of training down the line on what are the nutritional components, how do you ensure safety, how do you ensure the food is tasted by a senior member before it is being fed to the kids, so those aspects - what is to be done - having an emergency plan if this happens. Those kind of training programs are going on,” Singh said.

Enforcing safety locally

Purnima Menon, a senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that while India’s mid-day meal program can be considered successful, it’s only as good as its governance and implementation.  She says the incident in Bihar was a tragedy of not having checks and balances, despite prior research noting major shortcomings.
 
A 2010 Planning Commission study found gaping holes, particularly in Bihar’s program, including an erratic food supply, a lack of utensils and poor food quality.
 
“What is clearly needed is… a very clear articulation of what is the quality standard for every single school meal kitchen, whether it be the serving process or the preparation process,” said Menon.
 
She notes that having universal quality standards allows schools to work their way back up into the system to identify areas needing attention.
 
“Is it better infrastructure we need, more training? One can determine what is required so you don’t end up in ‘band-aid’ situations,” said Menon.
 
Despite quality standards varying from state to state and school to school, many kids like 12-year old Sahil Khan say they have no choice. They can’t learn on an empty stomach.    
 
“If you don’t eat properly, how can you concentrate?” asked Khan as he finished his lunch and prepared to head to class in the Tughlakabad area of New Delhi.
 
With increased scrutiny of the mid-day meal program, families hope their children will not risk their health each time they line up for lunch.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More