The Telangana government’s midday meal programme, which was launched with the twin objective of improving children’s nutritional status in government hostels and residential schools as well as encouraging students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds to attend school, is gradually losing credibility.
The goal was to keep children in school and allow them to concentrate on their education rather than working for food to support their families. Unfortunately, the objective seems to have been defeated by increasing reports of food poisoning in government hostels, residential schools, and colleges that seems to have dented the government’s image. There has been an increase in both food poisoning cases and student deaths in government hostels, residential schools, and colleges in the state in the last six months.
Telangana Social Welfare Schools and Hostels were highly sought-after educational institutions, with high demand for admissions. However, a series of food poisoning incidents, student deaths, and large numbers of sick students harmed these institutions’ credibility.
After the incidents, parents of the students are reconsidering sending their children to these schools because they believe there is no guarantee for their children’s lives and that it would be better to keep them in their villages and educate them in local schools so that the children will be alive. Government educational schools continue to be characterised by poor accountability and infrastructure, low attendance, and low pass rates.
The reports of food poisoning in government hostels, residential schools, and colleges came at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was already having a significant impact, not only on people’s health, but also on how the most vulnerable and marginalised boys and girls learn as the schools remained closed for a prolonged period.
Students’ educational standards fell on a variety of counts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was no mid-day meal because students and hotels were closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, several students were unable to get at least food and eggs because they were at home with the closure of everything for nearly a year and a half.
Moreover, the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the increasing “digital divide” among students in the state’s villages and tribal areas with little or no access to cellphones and computers. On the other hand, the online classes conducted in government schools and hostels have proved to be of little use to students, whereas physical classes help them learn and do their homework effectively.
The digital divide is not the only issue; students in several government hotels and residential schools also suffer from a lack of potable water, clean toilets, and sanitation, and some hostels in hilly areas do not even receive water from the Mission Bhagiratha, the Telangana government’s landmark project that recently received a national award.
Although the state government is working to improve conditions in government schools through ‘Mana Vooru Mana Badi’, it has not implemented a similar programme for government hostels and residential schools. Many educationists believe that simply developing infrastructure in government hostels does not result in significant change in the hostels when there is no proper maintenance and no supervision by higher-ups.
Educationists expressed concern about a lack of funds, poor sanitation, unsanitary conditions, contaminated water and adulterated food items used in food preparation, poor quality of food and a lack of supervision, as well as a lack of proper medical facilities for students in hostels and a significant delay in providing medical treatment to needy students in emergencies.
These issues should be addressed aggressively and proactively in order to instill confidence in students and their parents about government hostels, as there is a growing perception among parents that these institutions are becoming death traps for students due to a variety of issues.
In terms of food poisoning cases, government hostels, residential schools, and colleges have been facing financial difficulties in recent years due to a lack of funding.
Concerning food poisoning cases, government hostels, residential schools, and colleges were experiencing a funding shortage because the government was not releasing the necessary funds as in the past. Private contractors who supplied food items had been suffering from pending bills for a long time, which was affecting the quality of the food they supplied indirectly.
However, special officers of the KGBV schools are managing the hostels with their personal risk in some hostels despite a lack of funds. In her speech at Basar IIIT on September 26, education minister Sabita Indra Reddy stated that nearly nine lakh students were studying in government hostels, residential schools and colleges across the state, and that they were provided with good food, lodging and clothing.
She stated that this was in line with Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao’s vision of providing free education from kindergarten to graduate school.
On his part, the Chief Minister stated at the inauguration of Adivasi and Banjara Bhavans in Hyderabad that the government was “spending `1.25 lakh on each student who was studying in residential schools in the state”.
Despite the assertions and claims of the Telangana government, the fact remains that several problems, such as a lack of sanitation, adequate facilities, and increasing cases of food poisoning cases continue to plague the government educational institutions.
RANGA REDDY: GIRLS SAY UNABLE TO CHANGE PADS
The girl students of KGBV recently staged a massive protest in Ibrahimpatnam, Ranga Reddy district, demanding a supply of water and protesting the poor quality of food served to the students. The girl students stated that “they were unable to change even their pads or take baths during periods due to a severe lack of water in the hostel”, and that “the situation appears to be dire”. The hostel staff is getting water from private tankers, and the private water suppliers are not supplying water on a regular basis because they have not been paid their bills.
ADILABAD: NO WATER FOR TAKING BATH, WASHING LINEN
On April 18, approximately 200 students from the Telangana ST Gurukula School for Girls protested in this context. According to one inmate, many students were experiencing health issues such as itching because they did not take baths on a regular basis. They claimed that they were deprived of water for washing and cleaning even during their monthly periods. They urged the district officials to provide adequate water to them at their residential school at Mavala Gram Panchayat.
POOR QUALITY RICE SUPPLIED TO HOSTELS
There are strong allegations that old rice that was stocked during the Covid-19 pandemic is now being supplied to government hostels, and that this rice is full of “white worms” and “Thuttelu”, and that it is extremely difficult to clean before cooking rice.
Food contamination is a real possibility when cooking with stale rice, damaged vegetables, contaminated water, subpar ingredients, and cooking in unsanitary conditions. Sajid Khan, the DCC in-charge president, said during an inspection of a minority residential school in Bangaruguda village in Adilabad mandal that the state government’s claim of supplying fine quality rice to hostels is false, and that food is prepared with the general PDS rice supplied to the hostels.
R.O. PLANTS NOT WORKING: LACK OF FUNDS
There are a total of 133 tribal Ashram schools with 34,000 students, and 905 Primary Tribal schools with 20,000 students under the ITDA, Utnoor in the former Adilabad district.
RO plants were built at a cost of Rs 10 lakh each to provide purified drinking water to students, but many of them are no longer operational in Kerameri and Sirpur (T) mandals and require repairs. However, officials claim that the repairs were halted due to a lack of funds. As a result, students are forced to drink contaminated water because Mission Bhagiratha water was not supplied to hostels located in the interior and on hilly areas due to damaged pipelines and a lack of power supply.
PARENTS FEAR KIDS WILL DIE IN STUDIES
After completing her college studies, Atram Kavitha of Jendaguda village in Utnoor mandal, a Kolam Adivasi considered a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), wanted to become an officer to work for the uplift of the poor like her community in society, but her life abruptly ended after she died of ill-health and her family's dreams shattered
When this correspondent visited interior Jendaguda village, Kavitha’s mother Mothu Bai stated that “children will die if they go for higher studies to towns by leaving their villages” (“ekkuva chaduvuthe... pillalu chachipo-tharu”), and that this is the feeling they have collectively developed since her daughter’s death, and that they are now afraid of sending their children to hostels outside of their villages....