Gross negligence

The shocking death of six-year old Anusha due to burns suffered after she fell into a vessel of boiling “sambar” meant for the mid-day meal, is the second such incident in Karnataka in a mere 10 days.

The two unfortunate deaths have completely exposed the callousness of the school authorities and other government officials concerned as safety issues were given a go by. Coming as they did two months after the horrific death of 23 children due to food poising at Chhapra in Bihar, they show that not much has changed despite the authorities’ avowed claims of strict monitoring of the scheme. What is a matter of grave concern is that the deaths or children falling ill due to food poisoning under the scheme are happening regularly across the country.

The mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) is dogged by controversies from time to time. Issues of safety, hygiene, poor quality of food and water, weak monitoring, lack of parental/ teacher vigilance, need for proper infrastructure facilities like kitchen, instances of diversion/misuse of resources, social discrimination etc have repeatedly made headlines. Incidents like that of Anusha’s death or Chhapra tragedy keep happening, making the innocent children victims of gross negligence. This despite the department of school education and literacy of the Union ministry of human resources development issuing a fresh set of guidelines on July 22, after the Chhapra incident, relating to setting up of management structures, tasting of meal by teachers, safe storage facilities, cooking, review meetings, testing of food, emergency medical plan and so on to streamline and efficiently run the  schemes. The Karnataka government, too, held a review meeting under the chairmanship of the chief minister and decided on a host of issues, which apparently are yet to be implemented.

A sum of Rs 1,600 crore is spent on the MDMS in Karnataka per year to feed 61.4 lakh school children in about 55,000 schools (the scheme covers 110 million children in over 1.2 million schools all over the country). While 50 per cent of these Karnataka schools don’t have kitchens, when it comes to India as a whole, 31 per cent schools are yet to build them. Considering that MDMS has helped improve admission and retention of children in schools, especially of poor families, the Centre needs to plug the loopholes in the scheme to realise the dream of universal education in the near future.

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