Jharkhand: Students Prefer Mid Day Meals to ISKCON-Run Kitchen in Jharkhand, Finds Survey
The survey conducted in four blocks of West Singhbhum has reported that students found food from the centralised kitchen to be less tasty as there were no onions or garlic. Also, there are demands to resume the eggs in the midday meals.
गाँव कनेक्शन 18 Dec 2023 2:19 PM GMT
In a survey conducted on 42 schools across 23 gram panchayats in Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district, it was found that the students prefer mid day meals to the meals prepared by a centralised kitchen. The kitchen is situated in Chaibasa and is jointly managed by Annamrita Foundation which is a subsidiary of ISKCON with support from Tata Steel.
The mid day meals in these schools in the blocks of Sadar, Jhinkpani, Khuntpani, and Tantnaga have been suspended and the students are now getting food from the centralised kitchen through delivery vans.
The survey was conducted by a non-governmental collective named Khadya Suraksha Jan Adhikar Manch between September to November to understand the centralised kitchen system.
“Students of only 5 out of the 42 surveyed schools said that the food from the centralised kitchen is usually good, while students of 13 schools said that the food is usually bad and students of 19 schools said that it is sometimes bad. Teachers of 90% of schools said that children used to eat more when food was cooked in the school itself,” the survey mentioned.
“Now, children eat less and throw away food due to its poor quality and taste,” it added.
The survey report mentioned that children of all the schools told the surveyors that when the food was prepared in the school, it used to be hot, fresh and tasty.
“The food used to have green leafy vegetables and dal was given daily. But the food from the centralised kitchen has a strange smell and its taste is completely different from the food that they are used to. Food gets cold quickly in the winters,” it stated.
The survey reported that the vegetable consists only of potatoes and parwal cut in large pieces which sometimes aren’t cooked properly. The rice is stale at times. The dal is watery and sometimes not even fully boiled. It also turns sour at times.
“Dal is not even given daily. Most of the teachers and cooks made similar comments. They said that since the food is prepared in machines and without onion, garlic and spices as per local preferences, it is not tasty. During the survey, it was found that some children had started bringing tiffin or small packets of pickles,” it added.
It also documented the feedback of the cooks 80 per cent of whom said that the food from the centralised kitchen was found spoiled or soured at least once in the last month (from the date of survey).
Of these, 32 per cent stated that the food got spoiled more than once in a month.
In terms of impact on the livelihood of people dependent on the mid day meals before the centralised kitchen was introduced, it is mentioned that earlier, seasonal vegetables were purchased from local farmers to prepare the midday meal in the school.
“But after the implementation of the centralised kitchen system, this has stopped. The cooks' wages are also pending since several months. The cooks shared their apprehension with the survey teams that the cooks, who belong to the most marginalised section of the village, may lose their jobs in the coming days as the food is now prepared in the centralised kitchen,” it added.
Demands of Surveyors
The surveying organisation stated that there is a negative impact on children's health, nutrition and willingness to come to school because of the centralised kitchen system.
“Children not getting proper nutritious food in the mid-day meal is also a violation of the National Food Security Act. The Annamrita Foundation’s refusal to provide onion, garlic or eggs in the meals stems from the ideology of the ISKON foundation,” it mentioned.
“Denying these food items to school children is a violation of constitutional values. Now it is not possible to locally monitor the mid-day meals. The local economy is also being adversely affected.
Therefore, the organisationdemands that the centralised kitchen arrangement for midday meal should be stopped immediately in all the four blocks and the earlier system of cooking food in the school itself should be resumed,” it added.
It further demanded that in future, no organisation or company should be given the contract to prepare midday meals.