Bihar mid day meal horror: Students in fear; forensic report expected today

Chapra: As the death toll in the Bihar mid day meal tragedy climbed to 23, children are now refusing to eat the mid day meals in several parts of the state. They say their parents have asked them not to eat the mid day meal.

“We are very scared. 22 children have died after eating mid-day meal,” said a student Shivani Kumari. “So many children have fallen sick. Our parents have asked us not to eat mid day meal,” added another student Jayati.

Three days after the tragedy, there have still been no arrests even as the forensic report is expected on Friday. The headmistress of the Chhapra school, who has been named in the FIR, is still absconding.

Meanwhile, the Director of the mid day meal scheme in Bihar, R Lakshmanan, admitted that he had received an alert from the HRD Ministry in April. Speaking to IBN18 Editor-in-Chief Rajdeep Sardesai, Lakshmanan said, “The HRD Ministry had pointed out this issue. Based on their feedback in the month of April only, we had organised a training programme for all the school headmasters in Bihar. Our training programme, which was spread over roughly 20 days in different phases and they were trained on specific issues of how to actually run the mid day meal scheme. This was a repeat training. This regularly happens at various points of time.”

“Yes, at the government level we definitely own the responsibility and we take the responsibility, there is no issue in that,” he added.

“We had alerted the Bihar government quite a few months back about shortcomings in its food storage. We had expected that the Bihar government would have acted on the recommendations,” HRD Minister Pallam Raju said while admitting that there has been a failure on the part of the Nitish Kumar government in ensuring hygienic mid day meals for students across the state.

The state government, however, insists that it has done everything that could be done. It has even asking school principals to taste the cooked food themselves, before serving it to children.

While admitting that there were lapses in the mid day meal scheme, Pallam Raju defended the low expenditure on meals. The allocation allows just 55 paise to be spent on a meal per child.

“It is not the cost but the kind of nutrients that are served that have been determined by an expert body and these nutrients are determined by what is served and of course it depends on the quality of the food that is served. We definitely want to strengthen that aspect too and that is the reason we want to constitute a committee which will look into these factors with the whole objective of strengthening the quality of the food that is served, strengthening the hygiene factor,” Pallam Raju said.

Specific violations:

- How come Vegetable oil and pesticide were kept in same premises?

- According to rules Head-Master/Principal/Cook has to taste the food before being served to children.

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