It’s monsoon time in Goa. But along with the rain, comes the realisation of the poor quality of mid-day meals in the schools here with, at least in one case, cat and dog litter being found in the room where food was being cooked. A spate of incidents, coupled with the national alarm triggered by the deaths of nearly two dozen school children in Bihar, has forced the state government to look for newer ways and means to check the rot in Goa’s mid-day meal disbursing mechanism.
After mulling the possibility of temporarily discontinuing the mid-day meal scheme pending a thorough review, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar now says that the menu would be completely altered and articles susceptible to contamination eliminated from it. Fruits and wheat-based chapatis are on the top of the agenda. The checks, he said, will be more stringent, with the food being regularly subjected to inspections by specially designated food inspectors in the state education department.
‘Food inspectors will conduct regular checks for these food items,’ Parrikar said. In the last two months, students from several schools have fallen ill after complaining about the poor quality of food served to them under the mid-day meal scheme. On Saturday, Class IV and V students from the Kamleshwar school in Pernem, 25 km from here, were taken to a health centre as they started vomiting after eating the meal provided to them.
A few days after the Bihar tragedy, 23 students in a school in Ponda, 30 km from here, had a similar ordeal after eating bhaji-pao, a snack comprising bread and curried vegetables, a local favourite.
A probe by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) into yet another incident in June, where 86 students from a school in Canacona in south Goa revealed that the room where the meals were being cooked had cats and a dog litter as co-habitants.
‘Dirty and defaced kitchen walls, improper storage of various raw materials, cats and puppies in the wash area, fungus on the kitchen roof, flies and insects in and around the kitchen area were noticed,’ FDA director Salin Veljee told a local newspaper after the inspection.
Parrikar had himself admitted in the state assembly last year that in some cases, the food given under the mid-day meal scheme was unfit for even animal consumption.
‘Even the animals will not eat that food which is given to students under the scheme. The rice which is given in the pulao is not fit for animal consumption,’ Parrikar said last July during the monsoon session of the assembly.
The chief minister now wants parents/teachers associations to play a more active role in being vigilant about the quality of food being served to children.
Among other ideas, he said he could consider getting organisations like ISKCON to extend to Goa its food distribution programme in Bangalore.
‘In states like Karnataka, institutions like ISKCON are supplying tasty and nutritious meals to around 500 schools. If schools in Goa want to enter such an arrangement and supply their own meals to students, I am open to the idea. I don’t mind paying these institutions something extra,’ he said at a recent meeting with concerned parents last week.