'Can't force kids to eat midday meals'

Change in mindset can end caste-based discrimination, says minister

'Can't force kids to eat midday meals'

Social Welfare Minister H Anjaneya said on Tuesday that the government could not force children in its schools to eat the free mid-day meals supplied to them.

However, the government would make every effort to make students and their parents understand the significance of eating healthier food provided in schools and also educate parents not to corrupt the minds of children on the issue of caste.

He was reacting to the incident in a government school at Kuppegala in Mysuru where a section of the upper caste children refused to eat mid-day meals prepared by a dalit cook.

Anjaneya said, “Parents should realise that practicing caste system is inhuman. If a person insults a dalit, atrocity case can be booked. But more than anything, we should bring about change in the mindsets of the people.”

Asked whether the government can tackle such cases legally, the minister replied in the negative. He said, “No law can make children eat certain food compulsorily. At the same time, we can’t and shouldn’t be doing away with reservation. While appointing cooks too, reservation has to be followed. Untouchability must go and it will go.”

Midday meal scheme joint director Bellasetty said that compared to earlier, refusal to eat free food provided at schools on the issue of caste is far less now.

“The government can’t force children to eat the mid-day meals. One should understand that the food provided by the government is rich in nutrition. It is wholesome and of good quality. Free meals are given to students of both government and aided schools. There are 61 lakh children in 5,000 schools eligible for the meals. But we are not facing problem based on caste,” he claimed.

Both the State and the Centre are financially supporting the mid-day meal scheme. The government is giving meals to students in class 1 to 10.

This year, the approved budget for the scheme is Rs 1,493 crore, for free milk scheme it is Rs 399 crore. Cooks-cum-helpers, who are about 1.14 lakh in the State, are hired by Gram Panchayats for the schools.

They get a monthly honorarium of Rs 1,700. The local bodies follow roster system while hiring them.

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