Warning ignored: Quality of mid-day meals in Bihar was already a concern

Bihar mid-day mealsSchool children eating food of the mid-day meal programme at a government school in Gaya. (PTI)

Quality issues related to the midday meal scheme's implementation in Bihar had been red-flagged as recently as in April this year. In a meeting of the Programme Advisory Board for the scheme held by the human resource development ministry on April 23, the state government was informed that feedback from children indicated meals of poor quality and hygiene problems.

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Independent monitoring institutes that have assessed implementation in Bihar had found that "children, parents and community members were not happy with quality of food". They said "most of the schools served often average quality food items in unhygienic surroundings. Food was cooked and kept in the open and dirty ground... and unhygienic conditions".

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Amarjit Singh, additional secretary in the ministry who rushed to Chhapra today, said "gross negligence" and "systemic issues" were involved in the tragedy there. Singh said this school operated from a community hall, food was cooked was on the veranadah, and the teacher in charge who was to taste the meal before it was served to children did not do so this time.

Jamia Milia Islamia and Patna's A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies had been engaged by the HRD ministry as monitoring institutes in Bihar. Jamia Milia, which covered Banka, Bhagalpur, Kiamur, Kishanganj and Purnia, found that "quality was poor in several schools. Quantity of meals was insufficient...several schools did not offer variety in menu". Another finding was that "there was interruption in the midday meal in several schools due to shortage of foodgrain, fuel and cooking cost".

The Patna-based institute, which covered Drabhanga, Saharsa, Shehar and Sitamarhi, noted that "many sampled schools of Darbhanga were not serving hot cooked meals regularly. Children, parents...were not happy with quality... food was cooked and kept in open and unhygienic surroundings" across districts.

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