Hyderabad: Including eggs in the midday meal scheme is crucial but the matter continues to be ignored in many states. Despite the National Institute of Nutrition making eggs compulsory to ensure that children get a balanced diet, it is not served in most schools.
The egg has higher protein bioavailability of nearly 94 per cent, which is more than vegetable proteins like chick peas (76 per cent) and soya bean (54 per cent).
Nutritionist Suma Hari K. says, “Eggs are preferred for the midday meal scheme because not only are they rich in protein but they are also comparatively inexpensive. While many schools do give bananas and milk, it still won’t have the wholesome goodness of an egg which contains many vital nutrients and has high digestibility.”
According to the latest “Egg map” released, Telangana state schools distribute three eggs and anganwadis distribute seven each week. In AP, schools distribute five eggs and the anganwadis four.
An absence of eggs can be seen in most states, including 11 ruled by the BJP. Jammu and Kashmir distributes one egg per week. There are non-BJP states such as Delhi and Mizoram that do not serve eggs as well.
Many experts say that the egg is not included in most states as schools are tied between respect for cultural and religious beliefs.
Mr Rajesh Bhawar, an educational expert, says, “When the mid-day meal scheme was introduced, it was clearly stated that no food preferences would be forced on children. It was meant to reduce malnutrition, reduce dropout rates and increasing the retention power of students.”
He said rice, lentils and vegetables can be the staple diet but eggs should be provided to students who prefer them. In some states like Uttarakhand, it is provided to only extremely malnourished children. “Some states like Bihar see an increase in attendance on the days when egg is served,” Mr Bhawar said.
Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan serve completely vegetarian meals and there are no proposals for inclusion of an egg. Despite NIN reports clearly stating that Madhya Pradesh has a large number of malnourished students, schools do not serve eggs.
Ms Usha R., the district education officer of Medchal, said, “Telugu speaking states are already trying to include eggs in most meals. Strict orders were issued last year that they should be included in at least three meals per week. We also stress on dal, sambar and vegetables. We are trying to ensure other rules such as that the food should be served hot and immediately to avoid contamination. Hygienic cooking is also strictly supposed to be followed.”
A CAG report released earlier this year painted another picture. The midday meal scheme in the state is suffering because of the non-construction of kitchen-cum-storerooms. Only 1,435 schools out of 25,991 were serving the mid-day meal through the centralised kitchen system. The state government utilised only 67 per cent of the funds meant for the mid-day meal scheme, spending Rs 3,666 crore of the budgeted provision of Rs 5,466 crore.