The Education Department of Bihar government has instructed its district education officers to reimburse the children for their mid-day meals during the 15-day shutdown caused by the global pandemic COVID-19 with merely Rs 114. The letter instructed that the Department should deposit Rs 114 and Rs 171 for standard I to V and VI to VII students respectively into the bank account of students/parents.
The letter, while calculating the consumption, estimates that the students are likely to consume 1.5 kg of grains with an average of 100 gram per day and as per the planned rates and other components, Rs 114.21 “should be enough” for compensation.
The letter has enraged the locals and activists alike. Pushya Mitra, senior journalist based in Patna, told NewsClick that the letter mocks the destitution of the children and provides for insufficient measures in a state which was ranked worst in child malnutrition. He said, “If we go by the letter, you can feed your child at a time with Rs 7.5 only. Is it feasible? Certainly not. During the encephalitis season, we saw death of hundreds of children last year. A prime reason behind the whopping number of deaths was that almost all children were malnourished or stunted.”
The data by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggests that about 44% in the 0-5 years age group in Bihar are underweight, while country’s average is 35%.
Similarly, it also tops the list of stunted children in the 0-5 years age group with 48%; whereas, the national average remains at 38%. A further digging reveals that the state has 21% population of wasted children who are in the 0-5 years age group. Wasted children are those who have very low height or weight.
Kerala’s Response to the Crisis
Faced with a similar situation with schools shut down due to coronavirus scare, the Kerala government officials have decided to distribute ration on a weekly basis and deliver it to the children’s households. As per the scheme, each child is being given 255 gram of pulses, 120 gram of wheat, 170 gram peanuts, 55 gram oil and 180 gram jaggery. Similarly, for adolescent girls, the government planned to supply 1.7 kg of wheat, 170 gram of peanuts, 110 gram of oil and 300 gram jaggery.
Kerala, which boasts of the most successful mid-day meal schemes in the country, serves approximately 25,84,156 students across 2,327 schools.
Also read: ‘Break the Chain’ of COVID-19: Kerala Launches Campaign to Sensitise Public