Sunday, October 4, 2009


A two two rupees coin cannot buy much of a food in a country like India where food prices are galloping like the rocket which carried our Chandrayan satellite!. There is a beggars' association in Bihar which passed a resolution some time back that accepting coins by their members is an insult to them implying that alms given to them by the benevolent donors must not be less than Rs 5. But GOI seems to be believing that Rs 2 can bring about a revolution in the education field and has provided a whopping Rs 8000 crore for the so-called school-lunch program or midday school meal project under which more than 105 million school going children are to be covered. If we go by to day's price list, a sum of Rs 2 can buy 70 gm of raw rice, 85 gm of wheat flour, 100 ml of milk or one small egg. Can one make any preparation out of any one of them which can be called a 'meal'?

From the very beginning the so called societal programs like distribution of free foods have been designed to benefit not the children but the intermediaries who "handle" them at different stages and no one knows what percentage of the allocation really reaches the ultimate beneficiaries. Some believe that not more than 15% of the resources reach the beneficiaries! It looks like this is a scheme designed by 'people' for the 'people' but definitely not for 'the common man' of R K Laxman's famous cartoons in Times of India.Of course while criticizing the scheme, one has to keep in mind that food grains that go into school lunch program is subsidized making the two rupee go an extra mile. Still it is not an answer to the pangs of hunger felt by millions of children due to low purchasing capacity of their parents.

The vice-like grip the 'grabbers' have on the program can be gauged by the systematic exclusion of government agencies which were earlier making and supplying balanced and nutritious processed foods to the program and to day almost the entire supply comes from the private players with practically no quality check on the products. Another ploy was to orchestrate that children do not like processed foods and want 'hot' foods to be served to them at the school, opening a window of opportunity for massive diversion of the inputs for making such meals. It is a tragedy that year after year thousands of crore rupees are spent under this disguise with hardly any discernible impact.

The very basis of providing hot foods in the school is flawed in that the main objective of education is side-tracked with the teaching community burdened with the task of managing the food program. With massive shortage of teachers, how a nation can think of undermining the main agenda of teaching in the name of feeding, is intriguing. Why should the system cover 100% of the children is also beyond comprehension. Limiting the number by identifying the needy children would be more appropriate in stead of spreading the resources too thin. GOI must take a bold decision that there should not be any cooking in any of the schools coming under the scheme and top priority must be accorded to develop 'ready to eat' (RTE) products with varieties to avoid monotony and such foods must be easy to handle, store for longer time, distribute without causing damage and convenient to consume. One can only hope that sanity will prevail, putting a stop to the massive looting prevalent currently and really deserving children get the much needed food.


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