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  Mid-day Meal
  Delhi's anti-poor policy  
  THE Delhi Government's decision to suspend the Mid-day Meal programme in all its schools is not at all surprising. This decision follows an incident at Bal Kanya Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, Trilokpuri, where some students complained of stomach ache after they had their Mid-day Meal. The promptness with which the government suspended the programme gives the impression that it was waiting for an excuse to do so.

That the Delhi Government has not been keen on continuing the programme is well-known. In fact, Education Minister Arvinder Singh Lovely has been insisting that, instead of cooked meal, packed food like biscuits be served in the schools. However, it is the Supreme Court's insistence on cooked meals that has been forcing the government to provide such meals. It is significant that the government wants the whole programme "reviewed"before it is revived.

One has reason to believe that the government wants to go in for packed food, using the incident as an excuse. Also, it has not specified how long the government would take to review the programme. What is certain is that till the review is over, the children would be deprived of their Mid-day Meal. The food-poisoning was confined to one school. The government could have fixed the blame for serving adulterated food on the authorities concerned and punished them. There was no logic at all to suspend the whole programme.

For instance, on the day the incident hit the headlines in the Press, The Times of India reported about high radiation in the Kaiga atomic power plant leaving 45 employees sick. This is far more serious an incident than the food-poisoning but this did not force the government to close down all the nuclear plants and review the safety measures in place. So, why did the Delhi Government take a different kind of decision in the case of Mid-day Meal?

Most state governments are lukewarm towards the Mid-day Meal programme. They consider it as a bother, though studies have shown that it is a major initiative to attract poor students to schools and retain them till they pass the primary stage. A sumptuous meal a day is also necessary for the proper growth of children. Wherever the programme was implemented with sincerity, it made a significant impact on education and public health.

For years the programme has been going on in states like Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. However, the biscuit lobby has been exerting pressure on the government using incidents like the one reported from Trilokpuri to provide packed food, instead of cooked meals. Biscuits, however nutritious these may be, cannot be a substitute for proper meals. For many poor students, the Mid-day Meal is, perhaps, the only meal they get. In view of this, the Delhi Government should immediately revive the programme while punishing the guilty.
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