The Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) will supply breakfast to the students of Chennai Corporation schools as part of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed. In addition to the existing strength of 5,000 students, the two new kitchens of the organisation are expected to feed around 27,000 students. The Karnataka-based organisation run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) has a dubious record of diverting rice allotted for mid-day meals and quality of food supplied.
The government has also invited flak as it has shed the responsibility of directly supplying healthy food to the students. The government has also reportedly allotted land worth about Rs 500 crore for setting up two kitchens in the city.
IMPOSITION OF FOOD CULTURE
The APF has claimed that it provides quality and hygienic food from its centralised kitchens to the students, but it has removed onion and garlic from the list of ingredients. This is being seen as the organisation’s attempt at imposing its food culture through a government-funded scheme.
Aadhavan Dheetchanya, general secretary of the Tamil Nadu Progressive Writers and Artists Association (TNPWAA), told NewsClick, “The APF has a controversial track record of imposing a particular food culture. When the onion prices were skyrocketing, the union finance minister in the parliament claimed that she was not worried since her family avoids using onion and garlic in the food. This gives a clear idea of the agenda being imposed by the organisation. This is a part of the propaganda of the Sangh parivar organisations which are advocating for the non-existent advantages of vegetarian food.”
The APF has been in news for allegedly redirecting the rice allocated for mid-day meals scheme to other purposes in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The other issue being raised is the under-nutritious food supplied. The Karnataka officials have also found that the absence of onion and garlic results in flavourless food.
“When the government selects an organisation for implementing such a huge project, the track record of the organisation should be checked and considered,” Dheetchaya added.
The sanctioning of Rs 5 crore from the discretionary fund of the Governor has also raised doubts over the interest of the Governor in implementing the project through APF.
The recent budget saw an allocation of Rs 34,187.73 crore for the School Education Department with provision of Rs 5,935 crore for providing food for the students (mid-day meals and breakfast). The gradual departure of the government from the public education system has raised questions over the high allocation (18% more than the previous budget).
In the past, the late Chief Minister K Kamaraj had introduced a noon meals scheme, which was then expanded to nutritious meals scheme by M G Ramachandran (MGR). The scheme was further expanded by J Jayalalitha with the inclusion of variety meals, eggs, potato and banana. All the schemes were implemented by the government itself.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) takes much credit for the expansion and strengthening of the schemes, but now seems to be shedding the responsibility by roping in private players to implement the daily breakfast scheme. The ‘part-time permanent’ employment will also take a beating. Each noon meal centre has three staff members working as noon meal organiser, cook and assistant cook. The government website claims to have employed 1,28,130 women under the scheme.