Katrasi Village, Jehanabad District, Bihar | Asha
Community Correspondent Asha made a video which helped improve the quality of school lunches for over 300 students. This is their story.
One afternoon while sitting down to eat lunch at school, Sweety, a student was shocked to find worms floating in her lentils. For her and the other students, this was the final straw and they refused to eat the school meals from then on. For many children in India, the school mid day meal is their only nutritious meal of the day as their parents cannot afford to provide this at home.
With poverty levels soaring and hunger being a real issue in India, the Mid Day Meal (MDM) Scheme has often been lauded as one of the most innovative ways to keep kids in school. The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) was launched almost 2 decades ago as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with the primary aim of enhancing enrolment, retention & attendance as well as increasing the availability of nutritious food for children. The dodgy implementation of the scheme however, is something that needs to be fixed urgently.
On her first visit to the middle school, Asha found a variety of rotting food supplies scattered around the school’s boundary wall. The cook, Anita Devi said that she was being forced to cook with substandard material by the MDM in-charge. The in-charges act as contractors, supplying rations to the cook and ensuring the smooth delivery of the scheme. Often, as in this case, in-charges siphon off rations, delay supplies and generally derail the process, compromising on the health of children.
“When the MDM in-charge saw me filming, he looked genuinely frightened. He even offered me a bribe to not make the video and cover the matter up. But I wasn’t going to be bullied so easily. I took the video evidence to the Block Development Officer,” says Asha.
The Block Development Officer came to check the school, the students teachers and cook all corroborated the story of what had been going on there. The in-charge, who by then had promised to stop the corruption, was given a firm warning. In the months since, the school kitchen has been equipped with proper utensils, the rations now come on time and are of a good quality.
For Asha, this impact is but one small change, and she explains how much more still needs to be fixed, “People who put the lives of others at risk for their selfish purposes have to be brought to justice. I feel that only when enough such people are held accountable and are made examples of will there be an overall change in how schemes like the Mid Day Meals are implemented.”