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

Hong Kong Democracy Calls Spread to Macau

Macau and Hong Kong are China’s two 'special administrative regions' which gives them a measure of autonomy More

After Nearly 2 Years, Pistorius Remains Elusive

Reporter Anita Powell reflects on her experience covering the Olympic athlete's murder trial More

Kenyan Coastal Town Struggles With Deadly June Attacks

Three months after al-Shabab militants allegedly attacked their town, some Mpeketoni residents are still bitter, question who was really behind the assaults 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.
Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africai
X
Luis Ramirez
September 15, 2014 11:01 PM
President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Obama to Ramp Up Anti-Ebola Efforts in Africa

President Barack Obama on Tuesday will unveil his plan to ramp up efforts against the spread of the Ebola virus in Africa. VOA White House Correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid