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Krishna Kumar Singh, also known among friend circles KK and among close relative Krishna; Matriculation from Mithila High School Balour, Darbhanga in 1959, Graduated in Political Science Honours from C M College, Darbhanga, Bihar University in 1963; Joined post-graduate in Political Science the same year but dropped; joined Naxal movement under Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal, Satya Narayan Singh and Umadhar Singh in between but circumstances compelled to join literary work, clerk, proof readers etc in different publishing houses for livelihood; Finally joined journalism as career in different English newspapers and before my retirement from active journalism, I worked in The Times of India for about 19 years and retired as Chief Reporter  a few years back; continuing in journalism-reading more and more, writing more and more and praying to Almighty more and more-currently writing for different national English and Hindi dailies and magazines..

Saturday, 20 July 2013

'"MID-DAY MEAL OR MID-DAY DEATH" Scheme: Chapra tragedy results of mismanagement and Corruption !

Very sad ! It is "MID-DAY-MEAL (MDM)" or MID-DAY DEATH (MDD)" in Bihar. In many places in the country, particularly in Bihar, the MDM has turned into MDD because of corruption and mismanagement of the affairs of the scheme by respective state governments, which  are implementing authorities. In mismanaging the affairs and corrupt practices in its implementation, less said is better in Bihar . DEATHS of 27 school children in village Gandaman in Saran district, just a neighbourhood village where the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad was born and brought up, of Bihar in India after eating poisonous food  is worse tragedy and has turned into a full blown national crisis. The so called MDM, a policy conceived and  launched by India government throughout the country to improve nutrition and school attendance. recent outrageous deaths in Bihar have caused global outrage. Riots had broken out in entire Chapra district with distraught parents and relatives wrecking school kitchen and torching vehicles while the Nitish Kumar government in Bihar tried to insinuate that it is a political conspiracy to destabilise them in election year.Postmortems indicate the cause may have been adulterated cooking oil. This is terrible tragedy-awful, avoidable, unconscionable.

Instead of stern measures to streamline the scheme, the Bihar government continued in blame game-while its principal secretary Amarjeet Sinha shamelessly declining the statement of the union HRD minister M M Pallam Raju that Bihar government has been alerted Bihar government about irregularities like unhygienic food in MDM scheme specially in 12 districts of Bihar including Saran because of certain shortcomings in the implementation of the programme. Amarjeet Sinha, however, said, " for now this is confirmed that the oil used to prepare the meal was the major and immediate reasons behind the tragedy." The height of shamelessly shameness on the part of Sinha is that he had publicly told that no advisory had been received by Bihar government-now the question arises-who is liar Union HRD minister or  Principal Secretary of Bihar's HRD department ? Not only that Bihar's HRD MInister P K Sahi, who is protege of Nitish Kumar, is throwing blame game on opposition parties including BJP and RJD by declaring openly that there is political conspiracy behind the tragedy to defame CM Nitish Kumar. The inefficiency and callousness of Bihar government could also be gaused with a recent report that the Bihar government had returned to the Centre Rs 462.78 crore meant to built mid-day meal kitchen and buy utensils to serve cooked meals because Bihar government failed miserably to float tenders for the purpose, resulting into meal is prepared in open sky or in dingy rooms of respective schools.

There are diverse opinions about the utility of the MDM scheme because of harsh reality is that food provided to children all over the country, particularly Bihar, is often substandard and sometimes not even fit for human consumption. Snakes and worms have been reported in Mid-Day Meals and adulteration has been said to take place as well. A report has said that at another place in Bihar 15 children had been reported ill, after a lizard was suspected to have fallen into their lunch., the next day of Chapra tragedy Such reports have become very common in many states of the country. In Maharashtra, 31 children contracted gastroenteritis after consuming their school meals. A few days back , such report has also come from Tamil Nadu. One section of the society were of the opinion that MDM scheme should be delinked from the school management and may be handled by a separate government agency while another sections are of the views that result of MDM scheme results are not very encouraging-hence an alternative arrangements must be made to save the children from malnutrition as well as to encourage poor children for education !

The Mid-Day Meal Scheme was introduced to ensure that a hot cooked lunch would be provided to government supported schools. The meal was meant to contain at least 300 calories per child, with 8-10 gram of proteins. The policy was initially welcomed as it would mean that the children, many of whom come from the most vulnerable sections of society, might attend school because of it and also receive some much-needed nutrition. It is estimated that approximately 100 million school children are fed through the scheme. But, unfortunately, the leakage an d corruption in the system are said to be equally as large.

According to various studies in selected districts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh; only 75 percent of the requisitioned food is usually doled out to the children. There are also issues of cleanliness. Often the cook hired for a task is some time not paid for months at a time. Even in particularly impoverished areas of Mumbai, school teachers have found that the children resist eating the food, because it is poor in quality.

A few years back, aware of the constant complaints, the central government had thought of replacing the hot food with prepackaged meals. But there have been instances when even biscuits given to the children have made them dangerously ill. Despite  all of this, for some peculiar reasons, the government has not taken into account the views of the scheme's stakeholders: the children who are recipients of all this deadly state-run charity.

The recent MDM scheme tragedy in  Saran district of Bihar has peculiar story.. Children started complaining of stomach pain while eating food, the school headmistress allegedly snubbed them and rather forced them to finish the meal. She is now evading arrest along with her husband. Notably death figures rose by mani-fold because there were no medical  facilities in and around the school on Chapra. Many children died on the way to Chapra Sadar hospital and Patna Medical College Hospital in the state headquarters in Patna. In Bihar medical system is also in disarray, you will find seldom hospitals in rural areas of Bihar and doctors also, thanks to lackadaisical approach of Nitish government !

Nitish Kumar, who claims good governance in Bihar and getting laurels throughout the country, is yet to speak about the gravity of tragedy. Kumar, however, announced freebies of a sum Rs two lakh each for every family of a child that has died,. The facts remain that these underprivileged children have become victims of these free school meals, rather than beneficiaries.

More over the problem in India is that both in acquisition as well as in the delivery mechanism corruption is rampant. Most of the food is acquired from the Food Corporation of India, also in spotlight for its less than satisfactory role in in the Public Distribution System , which provides rationed grains at subsidised rates to those who live below poverty line. Now the government is getting ready to launch food security A ordinance, w under which over 67 percent of the population will receive food every month at highly subsidised rates, it is not sure how corruption free manner it will ever ensure a corruption free system where the food actually reaches to the targeted people who need it most. Can the government ensure food's quality ? Even in Mid-DAy meal, there is little evidences to suggest that school children are actually getting any nutritional value from it all !

But another set of an essay in The Guardian, written by  Abhijeet Singh, Research officer, Oxford University, Department of International Development and a doctoral student of Economics, has different opinion about MDM in India. He says Chapra tragedy is urgent topic for soul searching about neglect of basic services in India, particularly among political classes. Singh is opposite to the opinion of Kishwat Desai's essay on Chapra tragedy and unsuccessful handling of MDM scheme in India, particularly in Bihar ! Singh's essay, particularly the tragedy in Bihar and scheme 's success, gives possitive impression. For this assertion, Singh has quoted Farzana Afridi of Indian Statistical Instituter's. there have been large benefits of the scheme . In a paper in the Journal of Development Economics, She says, " at the cost of between 1.44 cents to 3.04 cents per child per school day the  scheme improved nutritional intakes by reducing the daily protein deficiency of a primary school student by 100 percent, the calorie deficiency by almost 30 percent and the daily iron deficiency by nearly 10 percent."

In a paper in the Journal of Development Studies, she found that attendance rate of girls in grade one rose by 12 percentage points because of meals. Rashri Jayaraman and Dora Simroth at the European School of Management and Technology In Berlin said enrolment went up substantially as a result of the introduction of school meals, similar to evidence reported in other studies. In yet another recent paper co-authored with Stefan Dercon and Albert Park, forthcoming in Economic Development and Cultural Change in the Oxford university Singh found that children  whose households experienced droughts when they were very young (under two years) had higher levels of malnourishment but if they had since been enrolled in a government school, the meals compensated for the early nutritional deficits-put simply, there was no physical evidence of worse nutrition by the  time they were aged five to six years compared with children who had not experienced drought. In a country with high child nutrition and with agriculture often at the mercy of the monsoon rains, these are encouraging results there are other effects possible that are less easily quantified: on every school day, million of school children, from different castes and religions , eat  meals from the same pot together-in a socially stratified society, this cannot be seen as being anything but good for social equality. Mid-day meals, which reach about 120 million children every school day, are probably the most successful of all interventions in education that the Indian state delivered in the past decades. On any school day, a quarter of teachers are absent from government schools, only 45 percent of those in school are teaching but in 87 percent of schools, a hot meal is served, Singh commented.

The Chapra tragedy has given signal to various state governments, particularly Bihar government as well as Union HRD ministry and govt for better monitoring and control to save the noble MDM scheme from mismanagement and corruption !

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