Published: 28th October 2020
Activists, doctors accuse K’taka govt of stopping midday meals, urge it to add egg as food item
The signatories in their letter said that students have not been receiving the midday meals or dry ration from June 2020
Various organisations, doctors, nutritionists, lawyers, activists and citizens in Karnataka have written to the department of Public Instructions demanding that midday meals be provided to students in the state and that eggs become a mandatory item in the meal. The signatories in their letter said that students have not been receiving the midday meals or dry ration from June 2020 and pointed out that Karnataka was already not doing enough to provide nutrition to children in the state.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) (2015), in Karnataka, most children are not reaching their ideal height and weight, with stunting (less height for age) of 39 percent, undernutrition (less weight for age) of 40 percent, more in Scheduled caste (SC) and Scheduled tribe (ST) children and anemia of 56 percent even before starting their school life at 6 year, the letter stated. The activists and nutritionists also added that milk powder was not being provided to the students under the Ksheera Bhagya programme. The signatories include Naavu Bharathiyaru, Siddharth Joshi, researcher, Jerald D’Souza, Ashirvad Social Concern, Niranjanaradhya V, ,CCL-NLSIU, National Law School of India University, Kathyayini Chamaraj, Executive Trustee, CIVIC Bangalore, Moyyudin Kutti, President , Karnataka SDMC Coordination Forum, Mangalore, Dr Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and Dr Imrana Qadeer, Distinguished Professor, Council for Social Development.
The group apprised the Commissioner about the directions from the government to ensure proper nutrition for the children - Under the National Food security Act (NFSA) governments are legally mandated to meet nutritional standards of the MDM. A well planned meal is expected to meet the dietary requirements of 450 – 700 cal and 15-20 gm of protein. The Joint Secretary (EE.I), Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, reiterated the obligation of state governments to provide nutritional entitlements under NFSA even during the closure of schools because of COVID-19 pandemic. In a subsequent letter sent by Joint Secretary (EE.I), Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, guidelines were laid down regarding provision of Food Security Allowance both for school months as well as summer vacations. They also mentioned that the High Court and the National Human Rights Commission had also issued advisories and observed that depriving children and lactating mothers of nutrition could lead to large scale malnutrition.
“When schools closed because of COVID-19 in March and midday meals were stopped for around 48 lakh children from classes 1-10, the State government provided ration kits that included rice and toor dal for three months till May. However, it has not distributed rations to students for five months from June to October. Thus the government of Karnataka is violating the rights of children on multiple fronts and actively contributing to further aggravate the current nutritional crisis. It is also to be noted that many of the children in government-run and government aided schools are predominantly from Dalit, minority and Adivasi communities. Therefore this also amounts to state perpetrated discrimination, “ the letter argued.
The group also raised the long contended issue of providing eggs with the midday meals and stressed on the importance of including the protein food for the benefit of the children, who needed to have at least one proper nutritious meal a day. They also pointed out that depriving children of this important food item is in many ways an imposition of the food habits of a minority on a majority, “As per the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), one egg weighing 60 gm would provide around 100 kcal of energy and 8 gm of protein as well as most of the other vitamins and minerals required for proper functioning of the body, except Vitamin C. The NIN recommends consumption of at least 3 eggs per week in view of several nutritional advantages. There have been several demands for eggs in the mid-day meal from civil society, parents and children in Karnataka.”
They also added that several states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal have been providing eggs as part of their MDM programme. “Odisha became the latest to join this group of progressive states, after the state government directed the ISKCON-linked NGO Akshay Patra to provide eggs. Karnataka is the only southern Indian state not to provide eggs as part of MDM, largely because of the opposition from certain religious groups,” the group said. The signatories argued that most of the communities that the students come from have no objection to them being provided with eggs. “Thus, the opposition of few communities against inclusion of eggs in midday meals amounts to imposition of food practices of a minority on the majority and effective denial of nutrition to 94 percent of children studying in these schools. As per the National Family Health Survey, at least 83 percent of the state’s population doesn’t have any cultural or religious objections to consumption of eggs. One should also note that eggs are already being provided at anganwadis to severely and acutely malnourished (SAM) children under the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). However, eggs are not provided by the State government for the last several years citing religious reasons. Therefore a simple and scientific means of providing calories and proteins are lost to the children,” the letter said.
The letter placed three demands in front of the Commissioner — Immediate provision of dry rations for all the pending months since May, and no further delays in future, along with dry rations, milk powder should be provided to the school-children, eggs at the rate of at least 5 per week per child should be mandatorily provided to the children and this has to be sanctioned on a priority basis.
The letter that is being shared on social media as a petition also urges concerned people to support them in their demands.