It was to be the first midday meal in a month at Gandaman Primary School of Chhapra. The menu was pigeon pea and lentil, rice and potato mixed with nenua. The 125 children waited expectantly; the two cooks were happy at getting work for the first time since August 16 when midday meals had been discontinued with rice having fallen out of stock.
A few yards away, village elders and parents, mostly mothers, were drafting an application to say no to the midday meal. Their ground was that the school administration, under pressure from Chhapra district programme officer (DPO) Awadhesh Bihari to show Patna that the district was complying with instructions to resume the midday meal, had procured food cooked at another school and served it to the Gandaman schoolchildren Friday. The Indian Express had reported on September 10 how 150 children of the school, where 23 children had died after a midday meal on July 16, were going without food for a month because the district administration was not replenishing the foodstock and firewood.
Gandmana is part of Benaipur assembly constituency, held by the RJD and voting on October 28.
Shanker Thakur and Surendra Rai, who had lost their children in the tragedy and have other wards enrolled, handed over an application signed by several parents saying they would not allow their children to eat the food until senior officers like the district magistrate, DPO or block education officer visited the village and assured the food was safe to eat and was always cooked at the school rather than packed from outside.
“We have lost 23 children. We cannot invite another tragedy. It will be good if the government gives us cash for the food or distributes even midday meal grains,” said Naina Devi, whose daughter Anju Kumari studies in Class III.
Shivkumari Kuwar, whose children Uday, Abhay and Pinky study in the school, said: “We cannot trust them. At least half a dozen children complained of an upset stomach after eating a packed midday meal on Friday. They have to rectify the system or give cash for food. We prefer to feed our children from our own kitchen.”
Some mothers went to the school kitchen and tried to argue with the two cooks, who are from the same village.
Harendra Mishra, who too had lost his two children in the midday meal tragedy, said they wanted to transfer all children from the school. As children waited for lunch at 12.30 pm, some parents asked them not to eat the food.
The children were confused but obeyed their parents. At 10.30 pm, Nitish Kumar, a Class III student and son of Jogendra Ram, a daily wager, said: “We will get food today.” But at the lunch break, he and other children were surprised by their parents’ protest.
School headmaster Animesh Kumar Singh said, “Now it is up to DPO Awadhesh Bihari to take care of the situation. Parents are right about their concerns about packed food but we have to follow the orders of our bosses. Seniors should intervene for resumption of the midday meal here.” The DPO was not available for comment.
Animesh Kumar Singh, incidentally, relinquished charge as headmaster later Monday and joined Masrakh’s Block Resources Centre.
Courtesy: The Indian Express