UP, Odisha also staring at Bihar-like tragedy

UP, Odisha also staring at Bihar-like tragedy

Given the unhygienic condition prevalent in the primary schools across Uttar Pradesh and Odisha, other states, too, could be staring at a Bihar-like tragedy. In fact, some of them may have even started to happen.

Saturday's incident at a primary school in UP’s Muzaffarnagar district, where 11 children fell sick after having the midday meal and had to be rushed to hospital, was only a pointer to the impending danger.

Officials in UP’s education department admitted that midday meals were being cooked under unhygienic conditions. Absence of dining sheds, poor quality of food, lack of proper storage facilities and virtually no monitoring have rendered the ambitious scheme not only useless but also harmful.

As a result, there have been reports of children refusing meals at school.
Although the rules say the meal must not be cooked in the open and children should consume it under the dining shed, nowhere are these rules followed. The cooked food is not even covered by school staff.

Only a couple of days ago, a huge quantity of stale items were recovered in a raid by officials from the premises of a factory in Allahabad where midday meal was cooked.
“Rats had a free run of the kitchen and store room. The turmeric was past its expiry date,” said the officials, adding that a notice had been issued to the voluntary organisation responsible for cooking the meal.

The scheme was in a complete mess in the state, said officials.

“It has failed to bring children to school,” they added.

The number of children between six and 14 years of age who were not attending the school in UP has increased from 4.9 per cent in 2009 to 6.4 per cent in 2012, says a report.

A concerned UP government has directed that midday meals be served only after being checked.

The scheme covers over 1 lakh primary and 53,000 upper-primary schools in UP, with around 20 lakh students.

Odisha, too, is seeing students steer clear of midday meals due to incidents across the state, like the discovery of a dead scorpion in the food in coastal Dhenkanal district.

Realising that things may go out of hand, the state government held a high-level emergency review meeting in Bhubaneswar on Saturday. The meeting, chaired by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, took several decisions to improve the quality of food served under the scheme.

Fallout

As for the Dhenkanal incident, tension prevailed in Siaria village on Friday when a dead scorpion was found in the midday meal food.

The teachers immediately stopped the meal distribution, but by then 39 students had already consumed the food. In fact, they had already started feeling uneasy, and three had begun to vomit.

All were immediately rushed to  government Dhenkanal district headquarters hospital.

Thankfully, they students recovered within hours.

Dhenkanal district authorities have ordered an inquiry into the incident, and an explanation has been sought from the school’s headmistress.

Activists monitoring the  scheme in the state maintain that the Dhenkanal incident was one among many. Luckily, no incident has ever turned as ugly and serious as the one in Bihar.

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