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

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office 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.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs