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Food and Security: The Two Aspects of Mid-Day Meals

WHAT IS FOOD?

Human civilization emerged from food. Man became civilized due to food. The need for food provided a platform for other inventions and developments of human life. Food determines a culture and a description for a group, a community and a society. Food is also a justification between general and specific entitlements. It is the existence of food which has survived other necessities of life. It also plays a very important role in ethical decision making.  And, moreover, food has been accepted by all. Food is a mode of attaining nutrition too; but in the genuine sense it imparts life, senses and new developments in the most eternal manner. Also the concepts like food sovereignty have come into being. Food is a very important aspect of human life. It determines our character, our behaviour and most importantly, our occupation. We live for food and are living for food only. Food is the treasure which we always try to keep secure; sometimes in actual or, sometimes in anticipatory mode. Interestingly, food is the only object which has taken the most diverse forms. Food is not only science; it is also a social science, too. Various judgments of human thinking are linked with food resting in our stomachs. In the words of science, food makes your body work, grow and repair it. The kind of food one eats affects the efficiency of one’s body processes. We are able to perform all our mental and physical tasks well all due to food intake. Food ensures the various essential elements like minerals, vitamins, proteins in the body.  Body function and the food that sustains it is infinitely complex. Food is in fact one of the most complicated sets of chemicals imaginable. Food is inevitable; food is life. Food is the right of all and everybody should be ensured food. Food is the confidence and the source of power which is in reality responsible for the continuity of human race.

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LEGAL ACCESS TO FOOD: A BASIC HUMAN RIGHT

The right to food is an inclusive right. It is not simply a right to a minimum ration of calories, proteins and other specific nutrients. It is a right to all nutritional elements that a person needs to live a healthy and active life, and to the means to access them.[1]

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.[2] By analogy, the right to have access to food is a right inherent to all human beings irrespective of nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion or, language; hence, right to food is a human right. Moreover, we are entitled to it without any further division and differentiation.

Also, the right to food is a human right recognized under international law which protects the right of all human beings to feed themselves in dignity, either by producing their food or by purchasing it.[3] The idea of the human right to food is to establish procedural and legal means for seeking remedies against authorities when they fail to guarantee access to food.[4]

Several National and International enactments which guarantee or propose to guarantee the “Right to Food” are:

  • Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949) states that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food”[5]
  • Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), “The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food,”[6]
  • General Comment 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which reads as  “Availability refers to the possibilities either for feeding oneself directly from productive land or other natural resources, or for well-functioning distribution, processing and market systems that can move food from the site of production to where it is needed in accordance with demand”[7] further elaborates the responsibilities of all State Parties to recognize the right of everyone to be free from hunger;[8]
  • Article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities considers the importance of health and accessibility of food to those who fail to make their ends meet due to disability;
  • Article 21 of the Constitution of India which states talks about “Protection of life and personal liberty” states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law guarantees a fundamental right to life and personal liberty, which necessarily includes the right to life with dignity”[9];
  • Article 39 (a) of the Constitution of India obliges the State to direct its policy towards ensuring that the citizens, men and women, equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood[10];
  • Article 42 of the Constitution of India provides that “the State shall make provision for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief”; this further obliges that State to take care of the needs of its citizens with relation to food.[11]
  • Article 47 of the Constitution of India discloses the duty of the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health. It reads as, “The State shall regard the raising of the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health as among its primary duties and, in particular, the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purposes of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health.”[12] Evidently, the purpose of this depiction has never been followed ideally. Negligence has always been there at the part of the authorities. A very good example of which is the recent case of Mid-day meal in Bihar. The negligence in the part of the authorities has resulted in numerous deaths of children who used to feed on this scheme. The scheme which was ideally expected to attract economically weak and malnourished children to school but finally, ended up taking their lives.

MID-DAY MEAL AND ITS IDEOLOGY

The Mid Day Meal is the world’s largest school feeding programme reaching out to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools/EGS centers across the country.[13] In 1925, a Mid-Day Meal Programme was introduced for disadvantaged children in Madras Municipal Corporation. By the mid-1980s, three States viz. Gujarat, Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the UT of Pondicherry had universalized a cooked Mid-Day Meal Programme with their own resources for children studying at the primary stage By 1990-91 the number of States implementing the mid-day meal programme with their own resources on a universal or a large scale had increased to twelve states.[14]

On 28 November 2001, the Supreme Court of India passed an order directing all state governments to introduce cooked mid-day meals in primary schools.[15] Taking initiative with reference to this order, several states of the Union have provided for mid-day meals at different levels of education, covering a large population of children. Along with this, several NGOs and different other organizations also provide for aiding this scheme, throughout the nation.

The aim of the Mid-day meal programmes is to improve the nutritional status of poor children. The latent aim is also to attract them to schools. Along with this, this programme also aids in the eradication of child labour in the way that children who previously used to invest their energy in labour now procure energy at school. This makes the Mid-day meal programme a very important scheme in building India.

According to the Research findings (2010) of Pratichi trust of Prof. Amartya Kumar Sen, implementation of MDM has been a success throughout the country. They have also proposed that the quality of food needs to be improved. The report by PROBE (Public Report on Basic Education) indicated that 84% of households reported that the children get cooked mid-day meal in schools and children enjoy varied menu. Good practices like washing hands before eating, & after eating are imparted in the schools.[16]

The National Institute of Public Cooperation & Child Development, Indore has reported that MDM has shown marked improvement in enrollment pattern of children in primary schools. As depicted in reports, the scheme helped reduce the burden on poor families relating to food and education with respect to girl child especially.[17]

According to the reports of  Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2010 reported in 83.4% schools served MDM on a day of visit and almost same percent of schools (81.3%) schools were having kitchen sheds for cooking mid-day meal.[18]

The purpose behind the Mid-Day Meal Scheme was to enhance enrolment, retention, and participation of children in primary schools, simultaneously improving their nutritional status.[19] In order to ensure the fulfillment of this purpose there is also a mechanism to maintain the transparency in the system. The quantity and quality of food-grains are specified and there is also a body to keep a proper check in the proceedings. This program has also been helpful in creating employment among women of the unprivileged classes.  The ideology of this programme has also been an initiation for the better supply of education to the unprivileged children and also has been an executed weapon for promoting gender equality. This scheme has also helped in improving attendance of children to schools and also, has played a very important role in imparting education and nutrition to the economically and at times, the socially backward class, too. This makes Mid-day Meal Scheme a welfare scheme.

MID-DAY MEAL A DISASTER

“Many lives could have been saved had the Chhapra Sadar Hospital been stocked with the antidote for organophosphorus, a chemical used as insecticide that laced the meal offered to children at primary school in Saran.”[20]

The Mid-day Meal Scheme in Bihar was started way back in 1995.[21] As listed in the Dopahar yojana or, Mid-day Meal Scheme of the Bihar Government, the main objectives of this endeavour are:-

i. To provide hot cooked Mid-day Meal to each and every child attending Government/Government added Schools, EGS and AIE centers, NCLP including Maqtabs and Madarsas.

ii. To enhance enrolment retention, attendance of the students and simultaneously to improve nutritional level amongst children.

iii. To protect children from class room hunger.

iv. To motivate children belonging to disadvantaged sections to attend school on more regular basis and help them to concentrate on school and class room activities.

v. To improve socialization among the castes and to enhance gender equity.[22]

But, in reality this seemed to fail when the killing due to food distributed in this scheme occurred in the Chhapra district of Bihar. According to the report by Dainik Jagran newspaper, the children were never served good food and the premises where the food was consumed were usually dirty. Pulses were not cooked property and vegetables where cooked in unhygienic conditions. The children are also forced by the teachers to feed on that food.[23]

As per the report published in “The Telegraph”, mostly, rice is allotted from FCI to state food corporation. From there, it is routed to block education officer, who distributes it to schools or NGOs. FCI puts the foodgrain in a red coloured bag and stamps “MDM” on it. Transport Contractors take out several kilograms of foodgrain from the bag, which is not weighed after reaching schools.[24]

Vegetables are bought by schools from open market and, so is oil; and there is no specific criteria for quality check but Vidyalaya Shiksha Samiti, a school committee is supposed to keep a watch. The menu lacks green vegetables and on most days of the week, khichdi is served for meal.

A Pucca kitchen shed-cum store is ideally supposed to be constructed and along with this, regular Monitoring by district MDM cell is also proposed under the terms of this project.  But, majority lack this facility. [25] The quality of rice and wheat from the FCI is not up to standard, and alien materials in the bags contaminate food grain.[26] The vegetables and the oil are also sub-standard. Cross cutting is done and the administrators of the programme fill up their pockets with the same. The appointment of the cooking staff is also through a corrupt mechanism.

Use of firewood is common and food is mostly cooked in the open in the absence of kitchens.  Food is to be tasted but is not in reality.

“It is a sad tale of over 20 children losing their lives and another two dozen or so falling sick after eating their free lunch at a primary school in Bihar.”[27]

Evidently, whenever any issue highlights big exposures, the media makes it a point to make disclosures on each and every chunk of the issue. According to media reports, the director of the midday meal scheme of Bihar government returned Rs 462.78 crore to the Centre, unable to spend it. The money was allotted between 2006-’07 and 2009-’10, and probably lay idle in banks till early 2012.[28] This is astonishing in itself. On one hand, the state fails to serve its children better due to lack of services and resources; on the other hand, it submits the money back stating that it’s surplus. And sadly, the human resource which is stately scarce is the Human Resource. It’s the human resource which fails to prove its authenticity as well flops in carrying out its responsibilities.

Now, many folds and dimensions of Mid-day meal working pathetically in different other states is also coming into picture. Similar reports regarding the scheme failure in other districts of Bihar, along with the neighbouring states like Odisha and Uttar Pradesh have been highlighted in the media within a week; many more are to come.

Looking upon the whole case, it is supposed to be noted that the whole massacre occurred due to acts of negligence, resulting in gross injuries and damages to the lives of innocent children. A well-known proverb states that “Prevention is better than Cure.” Since, here there is no scope left for cure, what we are only left with is prevention. Taking a lesson from the tragedy, the Bihar has taken a step to issue stringent instructions such as, in addition to the present provision of quality check of food under midday meal scheme by the cook and a school teacher, the government is planning to include one parent on rotational basis to ensure hygiene of the food. Maintenance of a register is also proposed along with improvement in infrastructural facilities for better implementation of the programme.[29] Hopefully, the guidelines will be followed strictly and the system will be strengthened; marking a positive growth in the society.

FOOD: A HOPE

On one side where food has become a weapon of mass destruction on the other side, it has entered as a ray of hope in the room of politics. Recently, the National Food Security Bill 2013 was recently passed as an ordinance by the Union Cabinet which aims to provide 5 Kg of food grains per person per month at subsidized prices from State Governments under the targeted public distribution system.[30] This has been termed as a political move by most of the critics. Talking about Tamil Nadu, here J. Jayalalithaa is trying to win the hearts of her voters by means of their stomach. In February, her government launched Amma Unavagam, or Amma eatery, a chain of 200 food joints set up by the Corporation of Chennai, which offers quality food at affordable prices.[31] It is to be noted that it is again a type of mid-day-meal which is in phase. The people are enjoying the benefits because cheaper commodities have the highest bidders and also, this system doesn’t discriminate the creamy layer and the non-creamy layer. Everyone can avail the service and everybody is availing too. Though the economics calculations fail here since, the canteens involved are losing Rs. 5 lakhs a day; but the positive point is that in India politics is being governed by food this time. The best part being, food offered to public at cheaper rates in a market where prices are taking a merry go-round height. All these take us to an inference that food is guiding the political journey in India. Securing food is becoming a means of securing vote.  Hence, food has also modified the political set up. Along with this, not to forget, food has attracted various scams and controversies and has laden the FCI with all required fame.

THE QUERY

As taught in earlier times, food, clothing and shelter are the basic amenities of life. The modern world added education, electricity, dignity and so many other things to it. But, undoubtedly food stands first among all. It is almost impossible to remove the charm which food possesses. A news flash always reflects a rotting food storage; on the other hand, scarcity of food. The thing which is to be kept in mind is that whenever any project is implemented, it should maintain quality. Corruption and negligence have eaten away crores from this nation; they should be but behind bars and should be awarded capital punishment. The incident at Bihar has killed human resource in the face of children. We need to save the rest, i.e., we need to save and sustain food. Critics firmly state the availability of food in quantitative terms; though not in quality. Even then why do we face food scarcity? Has corruption eaten our food completely? Is corruption cooking the food consuming which the children died? The human civilization which developed from food is now incapable of managing food for its generations. We face challenges like adulterated food materials and epic rises in food prices. Don’t we need to keep a security over this? If God is someone who endows you with life and also a healthy life; then food indeed is God. We ought to worship this God; by not wasting food, by keeping food healthy and secure for one and all.

About the Author

Tejaswini Ranjan
BA – LL.B (Hons.)
Chanakya National Law University,
Patna

REFEREnces:

  1. The Right to Adequate Food, p.2, available at https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/FactSheet34en.pdf , (accessed on July 18th, 2013, 11 pm)
  2. What are human rights? , available at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx (accessed on July 18th, 2013, 10:12 pm)
  3. Olivier De Schutter, The Right to Food, available at  https://www.srfood.org/index.php/en/right-to-food , (accessed on July 18th, 2013, 11 pm)
  4. The Right to Adequate Food, Module 12, available at https://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/IHRIP/circle/modules/module12.htm , (accessed on July 18th, 2013, 9:30 pm)
  5. Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1949) ,
  6. Article 11, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
  7. General Comment 12 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  8. Food Security Bill, 2011,
  9. Article 21, The Constitution of India.
  10. Food Security Bill,2011
  11. Article 42, The Constitution of India
  12. Article 47, The Constitution of India
  13. About the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, available at https://mdm.nic.in/ , (accessed on July 19th, 2013, 8:17 pm)
  14. About the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, available at https://mdm.nic.in/, (accessed on July 19th, 2013, 9:10 pm)
  15. MID-DAY MEALS IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS, available at https://www.righttofoodindia.org/data/wsfmdm.pdf , January 2004, p.3, (accessed on July 19th, 2013, 1:56 pm)
  16. Research Findings In Mid-day Meals, p.1, available at https://mdm.nic.in/Files/OrderCirculars/Findings_of_Research_studies.pdf , (accessed on July 20th, 2013, 8 pm)
  17. Research Findings In Mid-day Meals, p.1, available at https://mdm.nic.in/Files/OrderCirculars/Findings_of_Research_studies.pdf , (accessed on July 20th, 2013, 8:14 pm)
  18. Research Findings In Mid-day Meals, p.1, available at https://mdm.nic.in/Files/OrderCirculars/Findings_of_Research_studies.pdf , (accessed on July 20th, 2013, 7:54 pm)
  19. Shambhu Ghatak, Performance of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, available at https://zunia.org/sites/default/files/media/node-files/mi/164576_Mid_Day_Meal_Scheme1.pdf , (accessed on July 19th, 2013, 11 pm)
  20. Joy Sengupta and Shuchismita Chakraborty, ‘System Failure at Every Step’, The Telegraph, (Patna), July 18th, 2013, at p. 1
  21. Mid-day meal plan – An Introduction, available at https://www.dopahar.org/dopahar/ , (accessed on July 20th, 2013, 9:20 pm)
  22. Mid-day meal plan – An Introduction, available at https://www.dopahar.org/dopahar/ , (accessed on July 19th, 2013, 7:20 pm)
  23. Raju singh, “Bach Sakti thi Bacchhon ki Jaan”, Dainik Jagran, (Patna), July 20th,2013, at p.1
  24. Joy Sengupta and Shuchismita Chakraborty, ‘System Failure at Every Step’, The Telegraph, (Patna), July 18th, 2013, at p. 1
  25. Joy Sengupta and Shuchismita Chakraborty, ‘System Failure at Every Step’, The Telegraph, (Patna), July 18th, 2013, at p. 1
  26. TV Mohandas Pai, Bihar school deaths: Why the government makes a meal out of the mid-day meal scheme, available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/comments-analysis/bihar-school-deaths-why-the-government-makes-a-meal-out-of-the-mid-day-meal-scheme/articleshow/21174693.cms , (accessed on July 20th, 6:21 pm)
  27. Negligence leads to Bihar mid-day meal tragedy, July 18th, 2013, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/negligence-leads-to-bihar-midday-meal-tragedy/article4924497.ece , (accessed on July 20th, 6:32 pm)
  28. Josy Joseph, Bihar returned Rs. 463 crore midday meal funds to Centre, The Times of India, available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Bihar-returned-Rs-463-crore-midday-meal-funds-to-Centre/articleshow/21174741.cms , (accessed on July 20th, 6:11 pm)
  29. Midday meal tragedy: Bihar to issue stringent instructions, available at https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/midday-meal-tragedy-bihar-to-issue-stringent-instructions/article4927726.ece , (accessed on July 20th, 2013, 6:53 pm)
  30. Dhanraj Bhagat, What Food Security Bill means for India’s subsidy burden, available at https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/economy/what-food-security-bill-means-for-indias-subsidy-burden_921785.html , (accessed on July 20th, 9:32 pm)
  31. Lakshmi Subramansian, Hunger Games, The Week, p.28, July 14th, 2013

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July 19, 2016

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