Tirupati: The government introduced the midday meal scheme in the government schools to encourage the student attendance and to curb dropouts, but due to some reason the scheme faces a problem as some students are reluctant to use it. The district education department to overcome the burden of midday meal scheme, handed over the responsibility to some private religious organisation, which was of no use.
In Chittoor district, International Sri Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) took the responsibility of feeding 35,000 students of eight mandals in around 240 schools with two huge kitchens equipped with modern cooking facilities. One kitchen is at Tirupati fulfils the needs of four mandals in and around Tirupati whereas the other kitchen at Chinnagottigallu serves four western mandals of the district. Recently, there have been some grievances from the teachers’ unions to the education department for disbanding the midday meal contract from the Iskcon and handing it over to Dwcra groups.
A visit to a Municipal Upper Primary School located in Korlagunta in Tirupati threw up some bitter facts pertaining to the mid day meal being served by Iskcon. The school consisting of 280 students’ strength and 12 staff members are ‘extremely unhappy’ over the meal. Headmaster G. Venkateswarlu has said that about 80 per cent of the students are not utilising the scheme and are forced to bring lunch from their homes because of sub-standard quality of food being served by Iskcon.He complained that Iskcon is not following the prescribed regulations stipulated by the government concerning the mid day meal.
According to rules the students should be served rice and sambar for two days, dal with leafy vegetables for two days, rice cooked with vegetables and two boiled eggs in a week. But Iskcon is not following the menu. “Everyday our students are being served rice and sambar. Instead of boiled eggs they are being served with groundnut candy (prepared with jaggery), that too very often. As students are reluctant to eat the meal, we are forced to throw most of the food into the garbage,” he said.
Venkateswarlu who is also president of Telugunadu Teacher’s Association for Tirupati, said that despite bringing the matter to the notice of higher officials no positive steps were taken. The situation is altogether different in another government school, where the midday meal scheme is being run by Dwcra group. In ZP High School located at Yerpedu, around 25 km from Tirupati, the scheme is being operated by a private agency under Dwcra women. The ZP High School consisting of 524 student strength is immensely happy with the midday meal, where the prescribed menu is being followed. The school headmaster and MEO (full additional charge) E. Ramachandra Naidu expressed satisfaction with the menu being implemented and said that the students are very regular in attendance as the food being served is good.
“Rice with sambar, leafy vegetables, dal and two boiled eggs per week are being strictly followed in our school. The helpers from the agency cook food in the kitchen located in our school premises. Two of our teachers taste the food before it is served to the students. If any complaints are noticed we immediately rectify it by speaking to the organisers,” he said. Meanwhile, Progressive Teachers Recognised Union(PRTU) district general secretary C. Srinivasulu, who was demanding the education department to terminate the agreement made with Iskcon over midday meal for a long period, has said the government can provide employment to the villagers if the scheme was handed over to Dwcra groups. The meal being prepared by Iskcon is of substandard quality.
“Not a piece of vegetable can be found in the sambar. How can the students eat tasteless food without onion or garlic. Even leafy vegetables are not in the menu of Iskcon. How can the students who belongs to poor families get nutritious food with this menu,” he questioned. When this correspondent contacted ISKCON Food Relief Foundation Incharge Madhugopal Das, he clarified that they are strictly following the rules framed by the government. Not only rice and sambar we are providing bisibele bhath, sweet rice (sweet pongal) and curd rice. Instead of egg we are giving banana/groundnut candy for two days in a week. We have decided to provide buttermilk to the students which was stopped few days back,? he said.