Patna: Amid scorching summer, the lack of basic drinking water facilities in hundreds of government-run schools in Bihar has deprived hundreds of students of a midday meal for months. Due to non-functional hand pumps, school authorities failed to prepare or cook midday meals. This resulted in students being denied a daily quota of nutrition through mid-day meals.
Contrary to the State government’s repeated claim of providing tap water to all, the ground reality is something different. A large number of hand pumps in schools are either dried up or not functioning, which created a drinking water crisis for students and forced authorities not to serve mid-day meals to them.
“Drinking water is a serious problem in this school as the hand pump has not worked for over two months, and no mid-day meal is served to students. It is simple, how can cook will prepare mid-day meal without water. There is no other drinking water facility,” said a primary school teacher at Abhimanyu Nagar in Danapur block in Patna district, on condition of anonymity.
According to another school teacher, a request letter was sent to the concerned department to repair the hand pump to ensure drinking water for students. Lack of drinking water hampered midday meal.” Students are bringing drinking water from their home along with food.”
This was confirmed by several students, including Sonu Kumari, Rajesh Kumar and Mithlesh Rai, three of nearly 75 students of the school. “Neither there is drinking water nor mid-day meal provided to us as the hand pump is not working,” they said in one voice.
Sonu, Rajesh and Mithlesh belong to a socially and economically marginalised family and are attending classes without midday meals thanks to government and administrative apathy.
A similar situation is in the middle school at Mustafapur in Danapur. Interestingly, Danapur is situated on the outskirts of the capital city Patna.
In another example,mid-day meals are not prepared and served to students of a primary school at Mainpura in Phulwari Sharif block in Patna due to a lack of drinking water. This school is situated adjacent to a slum, and most of the students enrolled are from low-income families.
”The hand pump in the school is not working, and it has not been repaired so far despite being repeatedly informed. During the ongoing summer, students have been asked to bring drinking water from home,” school staff said.
A school teacher said that during a long spell of heatwaves last month, several students used to leave classes to visit their homes for drinking water.
More or less, the condition in Pashi primary school situated near a slum in Phulwari Sharif is the same.
Like these four, there are hundreds of schools across the state where midday meals are not served to students as they are not cooked due to a lack of drinking water.
There are reports that due to damaged hand pumps and non-availability of drinking water, mid-day meals are not served to students in dozens of schools in drought-prone Gaya, Kaimur, Rohtas, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Nawada and in other districts including flood-prone Muzaffarpur, Vaishali, Samastipur, Sitamarhi, Madhubani, Bhagalpur, Khagaria, Araria, Kishanganj, Purnea and Katihar.
A district official in Muzaffarpur said that hand pumps in 78 of 94 schools in the Bandra block were not working till last week despite rising temperatures. This has affected mid-day meal schemes.
In Gaya, a district official said that in the water-starved Barachatti block, 31 of 111 primary and middle schools lack drinking water due to non-working hand pumps. In total, 120 of 208 hand pumps in schools are not working, and only 88 hand pumps are working.
A senior official of the education department admitted that many schools lack even basic infrastructure like hand-pumps for drinking water. He expressed reluctance to share official data on the number of schools without basic drinking water facilities and several hand pumps not working in how many schools. “It is a fact that mid-day meals in some schools were not prepared for lack of drinking water as we got information. We had asked the PHED department to repair hand pumps in schools to end the drinking water shortage,” he said.
Ghalib Khan, a retired education department official, said that mid-day meals are not provided to thousands of school-going children due to a lack of drinking water, raw food grains, LPG, and cooks. “This is a reality; students in hundreds of government schools are attending classes without a mid-day meal,” he said.
He said, unlike private schools, children of mostly poor parents, including daily wage labourers, landless farmers and self-employed people, who are struggling to earn a livelihood, are studying in the government schools. These parents are powerless and voiceless and expect their children to get some nutrition through a mid-day meal, which is missing in hundreds of schools.
After a gap of nearly two years, mid-day meals were started in 70,000 government primary and middle schools in the state from February 28 this year. As per the official daily record, 1.18 crore students were provided mid-day meals in schools.