As we count the number of unfortunate deaths of children in Saran, Bihar after they consumed food supplied to them under the state government’s mid-day meal scheme, the sheer scale of the unfolding tragedy is brought home to us with the death toll now touching 22. Although the mid-day meal scheme has been a judicious and admirable endeavour on the part of the central and state governments, the terrible flaws within its implementation have rendered the laudable effort not only shaky but also pointless. The meals had been rightly framed, until now that is, as incentives to attract more and more children from poor families, for whom enrolling their kids in schools remains a luxury. The free mid-day meals provided at government-sponsored schools, therefore, have been ways to counter both the gaping lacunae in education and nutrition, with the rights to education and food being, to some extent, addressed by these state-aided schemes. However, several studies have already pointed out how the free food provided at these mid-day meals at government schools have been found to be not only severely deficient in terms of nutritional values, but often downright unhealthy to, as is the case with the latest tragedy in Bihar, contaminated, and in fact, poisoned.
The toxicology results of the food prepared for the lethal mid-day meals at the school in Bihar have yielded that it contained substantial amounts of organo-phosphate, a poisonous substance. Studies and reports of various food items supplied under the mid-day meal schemes in Delhi MCD schools (of them, several were carried out by this newspaper) have corroborated the view that the food provided is sub-standard and falling far short of the health and nutritional requirements of growing children. It is a travesty of justice to see such measures, which look egalitarian and commendable on paper, turn out to be raging nightmares for those at their receiving ends. When the government-run schemes, which are aimed to help the poor earn a square meal a day, turn out to be the biggest threats to their lives, where can the ordinary citizens go for their rights? As the ignominious spectacle of politicians profiteering over the tragic and absolutely avoidable mid-day meal ‘murders’ unfolds before us, with rival political factions trying to score brownie points and shooting darts at each other, we need to gear up and demand an in-depth inquiry into these deaths and the callous administration that
allowed it to happen.