On 15th August 1995, a centrally sponsored scheme, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched with a vision to enhance and improve the attendance, retention and nutritional levels among children. In the year 2001, the scheme became Mid-day Meal Scheme wherein every child enrolled in a Government aided primary school or Government school was to be provided a Mid-day Meal with a certain content of calories and protein per day for at least 200 days. This mid-day meal scheme was further revised in different years. However, a few days back, a report ‘Why are Karnataka’s school children unhappy with the mid-day meal?’ was published by The Hindu featuring some insights of the mid-day meal scheme which turned out to be an eye opener for the State Government of Karnataka. The report stated that the children enrolled in the Government school have complained that the mid-day meals served to them is bland and they do not like it’s taste. It was further mentioned in the report that, the non-government organization, Akshaya Patra which was contracted to provide mid-day meals does not add onion and garlic to the food served to the children whereas these ingredients are mentioned on the menu recommended by the State Government. The Akshaya Patra Foundation, in their defense stated that due to the religious beliefs of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness which is their parent organization, they decided to exclude the ingredients from the mid-day meal. This is the second time in six months that the organisation has run into a controversy. In December 2018, a survey of government schools and found that onion and garlic were absent from the meals served at schools where Akshaya Patra was the providing agency. The panel urged for them to be included in order to make meals tastier and more nutritious.
According to the statistics by MHRD, in the year 2017-18, more than 9.40 crore children were provided mid-day meal in 11.6 lakh government schools. The funds for the scheme are contributed by both the State and the Centre Governments and different menus are curated for different states based on the local factors. And Akshaya Patra, the organization that aims at ‘eliminating classroom hunger and countering malnutrition’ bagged the contract of mid-day meal scheme from the State Governments. Apart from the Karnataka Government, Odisha Government also acknowledged that the food provided by the organization was “not according to local taste” but decided to continue the contract as it was efficient.
For this week’s episode of ‘The Suno India Show,’ we reached out to Dr Sylvia Karpagam, a public health professional who has extensive experience tackling issues on Right to Health and Right to Food, especially for the marginalised communities. Dr Sylvia talks about the origin & mission of the mid-day meal scheme, centralised and de-centralised kitchens in the schools, the importance of having onion and garlic in the meals and also how the guidelines designed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development has made it clear that the NGOs or the Civil Society Organizations providing the mid-day meal should not use them for the propagation of any religious practice and answers all the questions related to the issue. She also highlighted how the minority is dictating the needs of the majority and the solutions to tackle the issue.