Notice to Centre, states on unhygienic midday meals

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MEALNew Delhi, August 16;In the backdrop of Bihar midday meal tragedy in which 22 students died, the Supreme Court on Friday sought report from Centre and all states on steps taken by them to prevent such incidents and to provide hygienic food to children.

A bench headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam issued notice to governments and directed them to file status report.

The court passed the order on a PIL filed by an advocate Sanjeeb Panigrahi seeking court’s intervention on the ground that there is no effective monitoring and evaluation of quality of food served to students under the scheme.

“In over 12 lakh government-run and aided schools, children receive free, cooked lunch every day but they are constantly exposed to risk of food poisoning and other related health hazards due to lack of infrastructure and proper monitoring of the scheme,” the petitioner said.

He also alleged that governments are not complying with apex court’s earlier order to provide prepared midday meal with a minimum content of 300 calories and 8-12 grams of protein each day of school for a minimum of 200 days.

“Lack of cleanliness occasionally leads to food poisoning, Children fall sick and there is a backlash against the whole programme from parents and teachers. This is actually not difficult to avoid, but it requires paying close attention to safety and hygiene at all times. The cook and helper have a special responsibility in this respect. Anyone who is involved in the cooking process should maintain strict personal hygiene and other safety measures,” he said.

Alleging that monitoring of the scheme is inadequate and its performance is not getting evaluated by any external agency, the petitioner sought direction to governments to initiate proper and regular financial and social audit of midday meal scheme.

“A spate of incidents takes place every month in some parts of the country leading to death and illness of children which require the Central and state governments to look for newer ways and means to check the rot in midday meal disbursing mechanism. Mere inspection by the administrative apparatus is not going to solve the problem rather a constant supervision and monitoring on the scheme at work is essential,” the petition said.

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