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ISKON Spoils the Mid-Day Meals in Jharkhand

Saturday 23 December 2023


17 December 2023

Centralised kitchen in midday meals a big flop, students fed up – Survey of schools exposes the truth

Khadya Suraksha Jan Adhikar Manch, Pashchimi Singhbhum

Khadya Suraksha Jan Adhikar Manch, Pashchimi Singhbhum today released the report (attached) of its survey of the centralised kitchen system started for midday meals in government schools of four blocks (Sadar, Jhinkpani, Khuntpani, Tantnagar) of West Singhbhum district (Jharkhand). A public discussion on the report was also organised. The survey found that school students are fed up of the centralised kitchen system and want the earlier midday meal system to be resumed. Several school students, parents, MDM cooks and activists shared their experience in the programme. District nodal officer for MDM also participated.

The centralized kitchen system for mid-day meals started in all the 370 government schools of the four blocks (primarily rural area) in January-April 2023. The centralized kitchen is run by the Annamrita Foundation, an organization of the ISKCON temple. The organization, in collaboration with Tata Steel and the district administration, has set up a centralized kitchen in Chaibasa, which prepares food that is sent to the schools through vehicles.

The Manch conducted a survey in September-November 2023 to understand the centralised kitchen system. The survey was conducted in 42 schools across 23 panchayats of the four blocks. During the survey, detailed discussions were held with the students, teachers and cooks of the school.

The findings are shocking. Students of all the surveyed schools and teachers in 92% of the surveyed schools said that the midday meals cooked in the school premises by the local cook was better than the food supplied by the centralised kitchen. Teachers of 90% schools said that children used to eat more when food was cooked in the school itself. Now, children eat less and throw away food due to its poor quality and taste. Even during the survey, children were seen throwing away midday meals in many schools. Teachers of most of the schools admitted that earlier even they used to eat the midday meals. But now they bring their own tiffin.

Children of all the schools told the surveyors that when food was prepared in the school, it used to be hot, fresh and tasty. The food used to have green leafy vegetables and dal was given daily. But the food from the centralised kitchen has a strange smell and its taste is completely different from the food that they are used to. Food gets cold quickly in the winters. Greens are never available. The vegetable consists only of potatoes and parwal, cut in large pieces which are sometimes not even get cooked completely. The rice is stale at times. The dal is watery and sometimes not even fully boiled. It also turns sour at times.

Most of the teachers and cooks made similar comments. They said that since the food is prepared in machines and without onion, garlic and spices as per local preferences, and is not served fresh, it is not tasty and goes bad. Children, teachers and cooks said that the food (rice/dal) often got spoiled during the summer season due to which children were not able to eat it. When the midday meal was cooked in the school itself, teachers and villagers could monitor the food. But now it is impossible for them to intervene if the quality and taste of the food supplied by the centralised kitchen is poor.

The survey also revealed that children of a quarter of the surveyed schools have stopped getting eggs (twice a week) regularly. Annamrita Foundation does not provide eggs. The money for eggs is still sent to the school. But since midday meals are no longer cooked in the school and cooking costs for eggs is not given, many schools have stopped eggs.

The centralised kitchen is also affecting local livelihoods. Earlier, seasonal vegetables were purchased from farmers of the village or local market to prepare the midday meal in the school. But after the implementation of the centralised kitchen system, this has stopped. The cooks’ wages are also pending since several months. The cooks shared their apprehension with the survey teams that the cooks, who belong to the most marginalised section of the village, may lose their jobs in the coming days as the food is now prepared in the centralised kitchen.

One of the local MLAs Niral Purti raised the issues faced by children due to centralised kitchen in the last monsoon session of the Jharkhand Vidhan Sabha. The department had assured that if the status does not improve, changes will be made in the centralised kitchen system. Parents of many villages have also complained several times.

Panelists shared their opinion about the survey findings. District Mukhiya Sangh’s Harin Tamsoy says that departmental officials should also be made to eat the centralised kitchen food. Sanyaro Oraon (Nrega Sahayata Kendra, Lohardaga) shared that the status of Annamrita Foundation run kitchen in Lohardaga district was similar. James Herenj (Convenor, Jharkhand Nrega Watch) said that MDM is not alms It has originated from Constitutional rights. He added that giving bad food to Adivasi children is a clear violation of their Constitutional rights. Nutrition scholar Deepak Tubid share that meat and fish are major sources of protein for Adivasi children. But it is missing in MDMs. Balram (Right to Food Campaign) said that the Annamrita Foundation’s refusal to provide onion, garlic or eggs in the meals stems from the ideology of the ISKON foundation. Denying these food items to school children is a violation of constitutional values. The education officer said that the district administration had received complaints against the kitchen earlier. The administration will take action on the survey findings.

The Annamrita Foundation’s refusal to provide onion, garlic or eggs in the meals stems from the ideology of the ISKON foundation. Denying these food items to school children is a violation of constitutional values. Khadya Suraksha Jan Adhikar Manch, Pashchimi Singhbhum demands that the centralized kitchen arrangement for midday meal should be stopped immediately in all the four blocks and the earlier system of cooking food in the school itself should be resumed. Also in the future, no organization or company should be given the contract to prepare midday meals.

Reports, photos and videos related to the survey can be downloaded from this link - . For further information, contact Ashok Mundri (7463899775), Dobro Bari (7091107112), Helen Sundi (8709150518), Jayanti Melgandi (8252536316), Kamal Purti (9801979253), Manki Tubid (6200690877), Naresh Purti (7763022174), Siraj Dutta (9939819763) or Sidiu Kayam (6205671489).

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