Saturday, September 15, 2012


India is supposed to have world's largest school feeding program which can be of envy to many other developing countries. If the statistics trotted out by the government at Delhi are to be believed, children going to thousands of school across the country must be a happy lot. Unfortunately there is a wide gap between the program on paper with billions of rupees invested and what is really happening at the ground level. Like the Public Distribution System (PDS) an instrument put in place for delivering food grains at low cost to poor families, in the school feeding program also there are reported to be large scale malpractices and corruption that derail the very objective of the scheme. There are several questions that cannot be easily answered if a critical study is made of the existing feeding programs. Ideally such a scheme should use a prepacked food basket consisting of at least a dozen varieties made in centralized facilities which can be distributed for consumption with minimum preparation efforts in the schools concerned. Unfortunately this is not happening in spite of the fact that Government of India owns world's largest food research organization at Mysore with capabilities to develop right mix of products for such programs. In stead the foods are "locally" made by school teachers employing child labor using ingredients and water of doubtful quality and safety with no proper oversight by knowledgeable people. A recent instruction issued by the government in Goa tries to address this issue with a genuine intention to prevent any untoward episodes of food related poisoning. Here is a take on this constructive step in Goa which can make some dent, albeit, very small on the problem of quality and safety.  

"With an objective to ensure distribution of proper and hygienic food under the Mid-day Meal Scheme to the students, the department of education on Thursday issued a circular announcing that all its officers/officials will make surprise visits to various schools in all the talukas to assess the quality of meals served under this scheme. A circular to this effect recently issued by the director of Education, Mr D P Dwivedi states that these officers/officials will have to submit a report with their recommendation in the prescribed format within fortnight of their visit. The circular also states that a schedule should be prepared by respective DDEs of zones to ensure that these officers/ officials visit all the schools and multiple visits of same school or no visit of schools should be avoided. The circular has directed the officers/officials of the DoE to find out during their visit as to whether the weekly menu has been displayed on the school notice board, the type of meal served, time and delivery of food by the self-help groups/ Mahila Mandals, maintenance of Mid-day Meal scheme register, type of food containers used and so on. The visit will also find out whether the head of the school has checked the quantity and quality while receiving the containers with mid-day meal, whether the meal is tested and tasted by the teacher before serving to the students, whether the meal is tested and tasted by the Parent-Teachers Association member before serving the same, and general impression of the visiting officers/officials as regards the mid-day meal served in every school. It may be recalled that the DoE had last month issued another circular asking schools to standardise the practice of making students wash their hands before and after eating the mid-day meal. In that circular, the schools had been told that the particular practice would reduce the occurrence of Darrow. During the academic year 2011-12, meals were served to 91,000 primary school students studying in altogether 1,134 schools, while at the upper primary level - from classes V to VIII - meals were served to a total of 62,000 students in 425 upper primary schools around Goa".

While such routine directions come at regular intervals, a larger question remains regarding the competence and commitment of the babus involved in management of the feeding program in hundreds of schools in the state. If education department personnel are appointed for overseeing the functions of schools receiving government aid, how can they carry out the food management related functions? Will they have sufficient spare time to devote to activities other than education? Do they have any basic idea regarding hygiene, sanitation and food quality? At least government must expose them to the dynamics of functions related to food distribution through limited short term training programs. It is a rudimentary principle of human relations that one will listen to only those who are more knowledgeable than himself and therefore the education department babus can have more authority in overseeing the school feeding program if they are trained in food handling basics.


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