OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS


 

It was John Maynard Keynes who once famously alluded to the thin dividing line between Fair & Foul in a Nation’s Economics.  Like most of his quotable quotes, this too is applicable to most of our problems which have eluded solutions despite well-meaning policy formulation & budgetary allocations by successive Governments.

The ineffective & oftentimes intellectually dishonest implementation of the much touted Midday Meal Scheme for Primary School children has occupied centre-stage in my modest thoughts : the brow isn’t actually furrowed but is headed in that general direction.

As I come out of a longish stretch of inertia (more famous Bloggers refer to this inaction as Writer’s Block) I cannot think of any subject more appropriate than this to unleash my creativity on  .

Directive Principles enshrined in our Constitution are  guidelines  for the Central & State Governments to enact & implement laws to effectively address various issues such as economic inequalities ,  child nutrition  , & indeed Cow & Calf protection ,  to name a few ; the last mentioned pursued with zeal greater than that visible for Child Nutrition in contemporary India !!

State sponsored Mid-Day meals in schools were first introduced  by MGR , the sensitive cine star turned politician in what was once Madras , over a decade after the Indian Republic had adopted the Constitution . A few other States followed perfunctorily & it was not long thereafter that a Central Government notified Mid -Day Meal Scheme was launched  as a collaborative project between the Centre & the States. Four decades later , in November 2001 , the Honourable Supreme Court of India passed an Order  clearly defining a Child’s ENTITLEMENT per day  as below  , in addition to micro-nutrients & medicines as recommended by the National Health Mission :

ITEM

PRIMARY : CLASS I to V

UPPER PRIMARY : CLASS VI to VIII

CALORIES

450 700

PROTEINS ( Gms )

12

20

RICE / WHEAT       ( Gms )

100

150

PULSES ( Gms )

20

30

VEGETABLES          ( Gms )

50

75

OIL & FATS (Gms)

05

8

Free Rice & Wheat from the Central Govt Pulses / Vegs / Oils & Fats from State Govts.

Kitchen infrastructure/ Running Expenses & cost of logistics concurrently from Centre & States

Meagre entitlement , so easy to fulfill , wouldn’t you agree . And yet both of us would be ever so wrong !!  Successive Governments have made huge budgetary allocations :  after all  over 120 million children in  nearly a  million schools to be fed for about 200 School Days a year translates to HUGE MONEY TO BE STOLEN , as reflected in some media headlines that scream at us with monotonous regularity  :

  • No Midday meals served for over 18 months : funds siphoned off
  •  Midday Meals Cereals sold to private traders
  • Only 7  out of 80 midday meal samples passed Food Safety tests
  • Traces of Coliform in School Meals / Adulteration / Food Poisoning
  • CHIKKI ( Energy Bar ) micro nutrient contaminated with dirt

Of course, not everyone can be painted with the same brush, but small pockets of excellence notwithstanding , implementation has largely remained well  below par . Few committed State Governments, &  Public – Private partnerships , such as  Akshaypatra in Karnataka ; & ISKCON in Mumbai are notable exceptions that prove that through honest & effective management of resources it is indeed possible to deliver affordable , safe & healthy  meals to Primary School Children.

Part of the problem has been dilution of focus by loading many sub-plots to piggy-back onto the main story . Different Pressure Groups have, over the years , added seemingly noble objectives to what ought to have remained essentially a Mid Day Meal scheme .  Literacy ;  Removal of Caste & Gender bias  ( you gel well if you eat together !! ) ; Empowering Women ( Village level Self Help Groups engaged in cooking School Meals & thereby employing women ) ; & Poverty  alleviation ( how !! )   are but a few such sub plots

Our Mythology speaks of  the Pandava prince Arjuna’s singular  focus on the eye of the GOLD FISH on a spinning wheel , to present his credentials in Archery to King Draupad & thereby win the hand of princess Draupadi as his reward ( later shared with his four brothers  at the behest of his mother who enjoyed prolonged bathing )  . Had his focus been diffused  & attention diverted he would , in all probability , not have hit the bull’s eye ( fish- eye in this narrative ) , nor won the princess’s hand ; the legend of Panchali would have been nipped in the bud ; the battle of Kurukshetra would probably have given mythology a miss ; Prince Arjuna’s charioteer in the battlefield would have been spared the arduous narrative to coax & cajole the prince on the horns of a dilemma out of his to-be-or-not-to-be stupor (plagiarized ages  later by a  bard on the banks of river Avon ) ; & my good friend  ParthaSarathi  would probably have been named somewhat differently . To cut a long story short & to steer clear of my nasty penchant for digression , suffice it to say that detached concentration & single minded focus without sub-plots is  a CAPITAL IDEA.

 Allow me to amplify the direction I am taking by sharing the following Maharashtra  State Government Declaration that I came across earlier this year when attending a workshop on School Meals  :

DSC02338

Can you find a mention here of Child Nutrition Healthy School Meals or anything even remotely congruent to the Central Plot. 

I would happily condone its linguistic inadequacy had the Central Theme not been so completely                                                                                                                                  side-lined.

The   Bureaucrat  CONCERNED  seemed completely UNCONCERNED  as to why I found this to be a matter of  DEEP  CONCERN . For his enlightenment : 

  • OBJECTIVES ARE SO BRAZENLY UNDEFINED
  • AGENDA IS SO VISIBLY DILUTED
  • FOCUS IS SO  CLEARLY DIFFUSED
  • HOW DIS-ORGANISED CAN SUCH  ORGANISED ASSERTIONS GET !!!

Nutripack Logo_jpeg

It was against this perspective that we launched a Research Project “NUTRIPACK “ in January 2015 , without much ado , from the historic & now University town of Wageningen in Netherlands as a collaboration between a Dutch Corporate with a CEO passionate about CSR , a Dutch Consultancy with very strong K2K & G2G platforms , a Dutch University of Applied Sciences with a Food & Agriculture bias , &  Baramati based  School of Biotechnology & Agricultural Development Board ; under the aegis of the                                                                                    Dutch Government . Attempts to meet the Union HRD Minister who presides over the Indian Government’s Mid-Day Meal Scheme in  Delhi were tactfully thwarted by her extremely polite   staff ( Madam has a very busy schedule but has read your E Mail with utmost interest !!  She will respond very shortly!! Madam gets very upset if we remind her— because she is so very busy, etc  ) 

Apart from identifying present shortcoming in terms of Safety , Hygiene , & Nutritional inadequacy , Project objectives entailed  evolving  new recipes & a viable model for delivery of safe & healthy meals each day  from Centralized Kitchens conforming to ISO & other Food Safety Standards.

Students were deployed from the Dutch University to collaborate with students from Baramati , mentored by  local  as well as  visiting Dutch faculty. Five months of penetrative field visits , laboratory tests , & detailed interface with  various stake holders at Pilot Schools in and around Baramati followed . Schools selected for the study were representative of a wide spectrum  consisting of Government-aided , Privately-aided , & Public-Private partnership aided Day-Schools & an affluent “funding-no-problem” Private School to provide the contrasting scenario. A privately funded Residential School for orphans & for children abandoned by parents under economic compulsions was also studied. Daily School Meal budgets ranged from a meagre Rs 3 per Child per School day to a princely Rs 5 to Rs 7 per child per School day , contrasting starkly with the Rs 50 + per Child per School day budget at the Private affluent “Aid-not-required” School which serves a menu customized by a full-time Nutritionist to provide variety as well as Nutritional balance.  Interestingly, & perhaps predictably, Pupil- absenteeism due to illness was observed to be the highest & a “Happiness” survey among pupils lowest at the high-budget School. While pupils at aided Schools were happy with their Rice & Dal / Sambhar with a miniscule serving of a vegetable each day with a “Laddoo”  or a Banana being the high point once every so often , those at the Private unaided school seemed unhappy with their Soup / Salad / Rice / Chapati / Dal / Vegetables / Fruits / Yoghurt or Buttermilk / Milk , & craved for food-adventurism in Pizzas , Burgers , Oriental & Continental cuisine . Body Mass Index studies showed dismal results & the unnerving prospect of stunted physical & mental growth in a very large percentage  of a new generation in resurgent India. Apart from School Meal samples , Cooking & Serving Utensils  were also tested & shockingly high percentage of microbial contamination observed specially in the Serving Bowls / Spoons & Plates. The less said about the quality of Drinking Water, the better .  The impact of personal hygiene in terms of washing of hands before cooking / serving / eating of meals was also included in the holistic study of  probable causes of contamination with the rather distressing observation that washing of hands with tap water in fact dramatically increased the level of contaminants , as did the use of some branded soaps . Branded & somewhat expensive hand washes were found to be the most effective , followed closely by unwashed hands.

In terms of Kitchen infrastructure , the sharp contrast between a Government aided school & that at the affluent Private School as below speaks for itself.Private School Kitchen

 

Government Aided School Kitchen The Research outcomes were presented at a Round Table in Mumbai in early June 2015 , coinciding with the visit of the Dutch Prime Ministerial delegation , in the august presence of the visiting Minister for  Agriculture , Agricultural Counseller from the Dutch embassy, Senior personnel from UNICEF , Women-on-Wings, & several leading Corporates .

As though in support of our cause , Mumbai editions of both Times of India & Indian Express carried Editorials highlighting inadequacies in the Mid-Day Meal Scheme , to coincide with our Round Table event .  Child Nutrition was the subject of much animated debate as multiple viewpoints & suggestions surged forth during the sumptuous Trade Dinner that followed with Mumbai’s who’s who in attendance. Multi-disciplinary MOUs were signed , hands warmly clasped in We Shall Overcome  symbolism & life moved on .

Until five months later a follow through was undertaken earlier this week on skype between  stakeholders to address the inevitability of change that had been recognised & had thankfully not been overtaken by the passage of time.

Rules of the Game are getting finalized : Mustn’t lose sight of Women’s Self Help Groups , we are told ; avoid Eggs is the egg-on from some quarters , belying the once popular Dara Singh commercial urging kids to eat eggs each day ( Sunday Ho Ya Monday : Roz Khao Andey !! ) : Some States have already banned Eggs from the Mid Day Meals menu : ” Elephants & Horses do not eat eggs & see how healthy & strong they are ” : thus spake a Senior State Government official , as he helped himself to yet another Egg-containing Cookie at the Taj Palace Round Table. That Eggs are cheaper than Lentils at today’s prices would not convince such guardians of Indian Culture otherwise.  Thankfully , there is no dearth of sanity , passion & immense patience in single minded pursuit of the goal  by all key stake-holders & “we shall overcome” is indeed the order of the day.

A Pilot project is on the cards to finally deliver Healthy Safe School Meals to a few hundred children at a few Schools to establish viability of the endeavour before expanding its horizons to post another blog another day .

Until then , cheers & all the best

 

 

About lkkanuga

65 , Mumbaikar in Gurgaon , celebrates Loneliness interspersed with occasional extended- family & old friends' reunions . Good Music , Single Malts & watching the world go by from his 11th floor terrace are his favorite pursuits. Also into pursuit of Safe & Secure Mid Day Meals for Primary School Children , in association with like minded individuals & institutions
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One Response to OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS

  1. Pingback: OF FAIR AND FOUL IN MID DAY MEALS | Lakshman's Corner

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