Burnt in fields, paddy straw fuels Ludhiana school’s free mid-day meal

As post-harvest paddy fires rage across the fields of Punjab, a Ludhiana school is using the stubble to cook free mid-day meals. Of the 35 acres the school is spread across, 25 acres have farms with vegetables, fruits and foodgrains, for the mid-day meals, coming straight from the fields. With LPG and firewood prices rising, now the fuel too is coming from its farms and those nearby which give it away all too willingly for free.

When the Sarvjan Sewa Educational Society started its first school at Macchiwara in 2004 — it has grown to four schools since — the concept of free mid-day meals in a private non-day boarding school came as a surprise to many. Though the area of its subsequent two schools and an upcoming one at neighbouring Ropar district has shrunk to two to three acres, the free mid-day meal scheme continues at all Garden Valley International Schools.

"At Macchiwara, the foodgrain and vegetables come mainly from our farms making fuel cost and salaries of cooking staff the main expense for providing children pulses, rice, chappatis and a dessert, once a week. But rising fuel prices have made the free meals a costly affair. Now we use paddy straw to cook nearly 2,500 to 3,000 chappatis a day for the 1,850 children getting education from 125 villages in and round Macchiwara," says the society's secretary Hardev Singh.

The society believes that mid-day meals are the best way to bridge the class divide and ensure proper nutrition during school hours. "As an English-medium CBSE-affiliated school, we had to abide by certain standards on education and sports facilities. We later also incorporated smart classes run by Educomp. But as our social obligation towards children of rural areas we kept the average fee at Rs 580 to 630 and incorporated free mid-day meals," Hardev adds.

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