Jharkhand Govt Unable to Give 3 Eggs a Week in Midday Meal Despite High Malnutrition in State
Image for representational use only; Image Courtesy : Jharkhand State News
Ranchi (Jharkhand)/New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Jharkhand has decided to reduce the number of weekly eggs in school midday meals from three to two. Call it a strong dislike of the saffron party for eggs or the state government’s refusal to meet the costs by allocating more funds for this crucial policy, but the truth is it has now started hitting the elementary education hard.
With increase in price of eggs, the state government has revised the earlier allotment from Rs 4 per egg to Rs 6 per egg. But instead of increasing the total budget commensurately with the inflation in the cost of eggs, the government – allege Right to Food campaigners – decided to serve one less egg per child per week.
They say introduction of eggs in schools, and later in Anganwadis (rural child care centres), is one of the few noteworthy steps taken by the Jharkhand government to improve child nutrition in the state, as the children in the state are amongst the most malnourished in the country.
According to the National Family Health Survey 4 conducted in 2015-16, 35.8 per cent children were underweight across the country. In Jharkhand, the corresponding ratio was as high as 47.8 per cent.
“Given the problem of malnutrition in the state, the government should withdraw its decision to reduce the number of eggs to poor children, as eggs are safe, affordable, tasty and an excellent source of protein and other nutrients for growing children. We demand that the government must increase the supply so that children can be given six eggs per week as part of the midday meal instead of reducing its number,” Asharfi Nand Prasad, convenor of the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, told Newsclick.
By now, eggs are served across 12 states of the country. Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu serve as many as five eggs per week. But majority of BJP-ruled states do not serve eggs despite the National Institute of Nutrition making it compulsory under the mid-day meal scheme, barring Jharkhand and Tripura. There are three other states in which the BJP is a coalition partner, and three non-BJP states, which do not serve eggs under the scheme.
Right to Food Campaign Jharkhand is also concerned with the centralised contract for supply of eggs in Anganwadis. The current arrangement is a centralised contract to ‘Kisan Poultry Farms’ (KPF), which is based in Tamil Nadu. “It emerges that the KPF is a very shady entity. In fact, it is a shell company of Christy Friedgram Industry, which is being investigated for large-scale fraud in similar ICDS-related contracts in Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, too. Christy Friedgram Industry has been blacklisted, and there is a pending case by the Lokayukta in the Supreme Court,” he alleged.
The contract stipulates that KPF should arrange for good-quality eggs to be delivered to Anganwadis at their doorsteps. However, the right to food activists claim to have observed in different parts of Jharkhand that: (1) many eggs are rotten, (2) delivery is not regular, and (3) eggs are not delivered at the doorsteps of Anganwadis, instead Anganwadi workers have to collect the eggs from a distance.
The Campaign has also written to Chief Minister Raghubar Das to the issue in his notice.
“We demand termination of the centralised contract for eggs in Anganwadis and its replacement with the supply arrangement for midday meals,” he said.
The National Institute of Nutrition, which works under the aegis of the Indian Council of Medical Research under the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, made the provision of eggs compulsory in midday meals, as they are considered cheaper, safer, more nutritious and easier to procure than alternatives such as milk or bananas.
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