For better meals, 7,700 Bihar schools pledged new homes

Midday meal

Running without a building of their own, 7,746 schools in Bihar will each be "tagged on" to the nearest government school that does have a dedicated building, and whose infrastructure it will share until it gets a building where it can be relocated, the human resource development department said Monday.

The decision is a fallout of the Chhapra tragedy last week when 23 children died after eating a midday meal later found to have contained pesticide. The move is to ensure better monitoring of the midday meal scheme, the department's principal secretary said.

Bihar has 73,591 government and government-aided schools with 2.23 crore students, and 71,200 of these serve midday meals. The primary school at Gandaman village, Chhapra, which was created this year, was being run from the village community hall. The hall, measuring 20 ft×15 ft, served as a school for 185 children while part of the verandah, 20×6, served as the kitchen where midday meals were cooked. On the day of the tragedy, 108 children were present.

"We can no longer allow schools without proper infrastructure to carry on with the midday meal scheme," said HRD principal secretary Amarjeet Sinha. "We will shift them in phases."

The Gandaman school, now closed, will be shifted to a nearby middle school. This will mean a walk of 10 minutes for children of Gandaman. Such shifts can potentially face resistance in some parts of the state. The government stresses the absence of infrastructure and the standards to be followed for classrooms, kitchens and drinking water. As per government figures, 8,111 schools have no drinking water facilities, 35,639 are without a separate toilet for girls, and 20,193 don't have even a common toilet.

"We are trying to find ways to keep teachers out of the monitoring of midday meals," HRD secretary Sinha said. "We are also looking at the example of Tamil Nadu, where an independent agency has been engaged for implementation of the scheme. There are cost factors involved, so the government cannot decide anything straightaway."

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