It took the deaths of 23 poor students in Bihar to make the sorry state of mid-day meal scheme in the country an issue for national debate. Newsrooms are now filled with reports of insects, lizards and reptiles being discovered in food meant for children under the scheme from every nook and corner of the country. A principal, a teacher and a distributor fell ill after tasting food last Monday in Delhi, but, these are just the symptoms and not the real problem that ails the scheme.
The real problem with the scheme is the connivance of officers, politicians, businessmen and NGOs which was first discovered and published by Millennium Post in a series of seven investigative reports in October 2012 which was followed by two more series- an investigative one and an RTI-based one.
In our first series of investigative reports regarding implementation of mid-day meal scheme in Delhi which was published from 22 to 31 October 2012, we had established the dirty nexus of government officers, NGOs, and faces behind major voluntary organisations entrusted to supply mid-day meal to the schools of three municipal corporations, New Delhi Municipal Council and Directorate of Education, Delhi government right under the nose of the entire government mechanism in the national capital. The investigation revealed that these NGOs have contracts with certain flour mills and sell entire grade A wheat and rice to be served to the children under the scheme received from Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns to them.
As per the guidelines of the Central government, the NGOs should be provided wheat and rice for the scheme in advance, but the monitoring institute for mid-day meal in Delhi, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) has been submitting in its annual reports that these NGOs are served the grains after 40 to 60 days of providing mid-day meal bill. The guidelines also said that the grain received from FCI must go to the stock rooms of NGOs and they can’t sub-let it.
The sleazy alliance of NGOs and flour mills became official when Shahdara South Zone of East Delhi Municipal Corporation said in reply to an RTI query on 1 February 2013 that Stri Shakti, the biggest mid-day meal contractor in Delhi, had a deal with with Sanjay Flour Mills in Bawana Industrial Area. The news was published in another report on 11 March 2013 under the heading ‘Over 90 per cent Mid Day Meal Samples Fail Quality Test’.
However, the Public Information Officers of other agencies parried the query citing it’s not within their jurisdiction as NGOs are private entities. In this series we had also established that these flour mills sell these grains in branded packs in the market and provide poor quality flour, rice, and suji to these NGOs for mid-day meal.
After witnessing distribution of mid-day meals in schools in Delhi, eating it, interviewing students, teachers and some kitchen experiments we had reported that the food in short was poor in both quality and quantity. These NGOs are feeding two to three children with the 100 gm grain allocated for one at primary level. Furthermore, the attendance is also fudged to show higher numbers. Teachers are also part of this scam mainly to save their jobs as less number of students may cost their contractual jobs or transfers.
The seven reports of the series highlighted – lack monitoring, very little use of fund allocated for monitoring, management and evaluation, no infrastructure at school level for monitoring, no equipment to weigh quantity of food, extent of anaemia and malnutrition in school kids, how recommendations of monitoring institute and Programme Approval Board (PAB) are being ignored, no provision of cook-cum-helpers, and hectic lobbying of the NGOs for getting mid-day meal contracts.
In the seventh part of our first series of mid-day meal in Delhi, published on 31 October 2012, we exposed that the NGOs in connivance with officers and politicians primarily use four ways to siphon off money from the scheme - (a) the money earned by selling the saved grain, by serving at least two students in 100 gm of grain, in the open market; (b) the money earned by saving the conversion cost; (c) the money saved by fudging the attendance records and adding ghost students; and (d) the money saved by using lower grade grain than that prescribed in the scheme guidelines. The amount reached approximately Rs 106.79 crore only for the year 2011-12. We calculated the worth of the scam for three years- 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 which was to the tune of Rs 295.79 crore.
Our second series of on mid-day meal came in December when we accessed the test reports of mid-day meal samples tested for protein and calorie value by Shriram Institute for Industrial Research (SIIR). The scanned copy of one of the reports was also published as part of a report on 19 December as evidence to show the poor quality of mid-day meal being served in Delhi. The scanned copy showed that the sample had 6.7 gm protein and 215 calorie count value against minimum requirement of 12 gm and 450 calorie respectively. In the second part on 21 December, we published the scanned copy of the test report of the sample which was sent by then mayor of East Delhi Municipal Corporation after a surprise inspection.
The test report showed protein value at 14 gm and 481 calorie value in the sample. It is pertinent to mention that the food in the surprise check was criticised by the mayor but the services of the NGO was retained.
The third and most important series came in March when we received reply to our RTI query after the direction of first appellate authority of Mid-Day Meal Cell of Delhi government. Over 90 per cent meal samples of three municipal corporations in the city and 83 per cent samples of Delhi government-run schools failed to meet the minimum nutritional requirements for the year 2012-13, as was published in a report on 11 March, 2013. The NDMC does not have provision of regular testing of mid-day meal samples but its test reports were found dubious and misleading.
Another agency, the Delhi Cantonment Board, did not provide any data. In this part we also reported on 4 March how testing of samples was stopped arbitrarily. These reports were much discussed in meetings of municipal corporations, Delhi government and Delhi assembly. National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) also issued notices to all the stakeholders on 29 March.