News / Asia

In India, Mid-Day Meal Deaths Prompt Increased Scrutiny

In India, Mid-Day Meal Deaths Prompt Increased Scrutinyi
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

Multimedia Brussels Schools, Metro Reopen Under Heavy Guard

City remains under the highest threat alert level due to what authorities have described as a 'serious and imminent' threat of attack

Video Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

UN Warns Air Pollution in Asia Pacific Has Rising Cost

Globally some seven million people a year die prematurely due to indoor and outdoor pollution with about 70 per cent of those deaths in region

This forum has been closed.
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.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs