Wary Gandaman says no to midday meals

Mid day mealLakshmi with friends eating home tiffin. Prashant ravi

Lakshmi Sah (11), a Class III student, sits on a mat in the Gandaman village middle school, earnestly copying down a prayer from a textbook. Next to her school bag lies a tiffin box tied up in a large handkerchief. Her mother has packed rice and aaloo-dam for her that day. She also carries a water bottle from home. Her friends Rajni, Pinky and Neha have their own their tiffin boxes.

Two months after 23 children died after having mid-day meal at the Gandaman government primary school in Chhapra, the Bihar government has been unable to resume the midday meal scheme here.

Despite several rounds of visits, by the midday meal director, the Saran district magistrate and several Education Department officials, over the past two months, the children and parents are not convinced. Food distributed at the school, they say almost in unison, is "janleva (lethal)".

Among the children who died in the midday meal tragedy in July was Lakshmi's younger brother, Shiva Kumar, 6.

Lakshmi now goes to the village middle school, as the Gandaman primary school where the deaths happened has been tagged to it. The primary school had been running from the village community hall. Post the tragedy, the government decided to tag 7,500-odd schools minus buildings of their own to nearest schools for "better MDM monitoring".

At tiffin time, 12.30 pm, Lakshmi, Rajni, Neha and Pinky, all survivors of the July 16 tragedy, fold the plastic mats they sit on and take a corner of another classroom to share their meal. Lakshmi, who had refused to eat the soyabean curry and rice on July 16 that is believed to have been tainted with a poisonous substance, shares her aaloo-dam with her friends, giggling.

Even students of the middle school, who were not enrolled at the primary school, are wary. Says Rajesh Kumar, a Class VIII student: "We dread taking meals at the school." Piyush Kumar, a Class V student, says their parents can manage food for them.

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