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Millennium Post

Baiting hungry kids for profit

On 11 July 2012, when I first encountered the mid-day meal issue, it was just a routine story for me, just like other beat reporters covering civic bodies in Delhi. However, the story interested me due to heated arguments and allegations between councillors of ruling BJP and opposition Congress, on why the rules of jurisdiction and merit were violated to benefit a certain NGO supplying mid-day meal in the primary schools of North Delhi Municipal Corporation (North DMC). But as we moved further into the investigation, skeletons started tumbling out from the proverbial closet. The facts of our investigative reports, published on 22 - 31 October 2012, were further reinforced when came the replies to some RTI queries by the government bodies entrusted for overseeing mid-day meal schemes in Delhi. What we took to be a problem of just a municipal corporation turned out to be a national shame.

In its investigative stories on mid-day meal, Millennium Post had established that poor quality of food was being supplied in the schools run by the municipal corporations, by observing mid-day meal distributions in some of the schools and citing reports of monitoring institutes in Delhi. The details of test reports of mid-day meal samples provided by Directorate of Education, Government of NCT Delhi and the three Delhi Municipal Corporations reveal the sorry state of the project which had envisioned providing at least one balanced diet to poor students studying in primary and upper primary government schools.

As per the RTI reply by Directorate of Education on 27 February, 2013, a total of 288 samples of mid-day meal were sent for test in the designated laboratory, Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, in 2012-13, but only 50 (17per cent) qualified the test. Out of these 50 qualified samples, 38 were from kitchens of NGOs and 12 were from schools. In 2011-12, a total of 541 samples were sent for test, of which only 27 (4.5 per cent) qualified the test, of which 17 were from schools and 10 were from NGO kitchens. Similarly, in 2010-11, Directorate of Education sent 466 samples of mid-day for quality test out of which only five (1.07 per cent) met the prescribed nutritional standard. The minimum nutritional standard for primary students in 12 gm protein and 450 calorie energy in one diet and for upper primary students it is 20 gm protein and 700 calorie energy. The department provides mid-day meal to over 1.49 lakh primary and upper primary school students.

Similarly, the three Delhi municipal corporations – North Delhi Municipal Corporation, South Delhi Municipal Corporation and East Delhi Municipal Corporation – sent 162 samples from April 2012 to 31 October 2012, out of which only 13 samples qualified the nutritional standard. The three corporations collectively provide mid-day meal to over 10 lakh students in 1,638 primary schools in Delhi. In 2011-12, erstwhile Delhi Municipal Corporation sent 158 samples, out of which only 7.5 per cent could qualify the prescribed nutritional norms.

The most posh civic body of the country, New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) doesn’t have any regular provision of testing the quality of mid-day meal samples. NDMC got its nine samples tested in Spectro Analytical Labs Ltd in the current financial year and all the samples qualified the test. After receiving the RTI query on 26 November 2012, the officers of the department sent two samples for quality test to Shriram Institute for Industrial Research, which were picked up from the same school at Bapu Dham from the same kitchen, following which, both the samples qualified the prescribed nutritional standard, but marginally.

As per the contract with NGOs engaged to supply mid-day meal in schools, the government bodies can take action against them for supplying sub-standard food, but this power was never exercised. Furthermore, the NGOs engaged to provide mid-day meal in Delhi also have contracts to supply mid-day meal in major states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, etc. Thus, the scam is not limited to just the national capital, but spread throughout the country which needs investigation by an efficient and impartial investigative agency. Millennium Post had already established that these NGOs are actually CSR arms of big companies and work pretty much like firms in corporate sector.

However, the departments ducked the question in RTI query whether the NGOs have contracts with floor mills, a fact established by Millennium Post in its part two of the investigative report on 23 October, 2012. But the RTI reply by Shahdara South Zone says ‘Yes’. Stri Shakti has contract with Sanjay Flour Mills, I-150, Bawana Industrial Area, Delhi-39. As per the rules, the subletting of the mid-day meal contract is not allowed, but NGOs use this route to siphon off A-grade grains received from Food Corporation of India (FCI) and use low quality food grain, thus making money by compromising on quality.

Further, the fact that the green vegetables are missing from mid-day meal food is also supported in the RTI reply. The menu of mid-day meal provided by these government bodies are- Halwa Chana, Kari Rice, Rajma Chawal, Poori Aaloo, Sambar Rice, and Poori Aaloo. None of the dishes have green vegetables as an ingredient, which is a must for mid-day meals in order to fight anaemia and malnutrition. The Directorate of Education, Delhi government, however, mentions mashed vegetables as gravy in these dishes but an actual observation of mid-day meal food shows is just opposite.

In a survey in 2012, over 70 per cent students of erstwhile Delhi Municipal Corporations and Directorate of Education of Delhi government were found to be anaemic.
Millennium Post
in its report on 31 October 2012 had estimated that over Rs 106 crore was looted from the plates of poor children only in 2011-12. A projection on pan-India level reveals that around Rs 23,000 crore were siphoned off from the project between 2009-10 to 2011-12.

If this is the fate of the much hyped project of Central government right under the nose of entire government machinery in national capital, one can easily asses the ground reality of the project which had Rs 11,937 crore of allocation by the Central Government in 2012-12 to feed over 12 crore poor children of the country. Furthermore, the Finance Minister P Chidambaram has proposed Rs 13,215 crore for mid day meal 2013-14 budget for approval before Parliament.
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