In a move aimed at ensuring quality of food and appropriate nutrition standards under the Midday Meal, the government has approved the introduction of a protocol for standards in food safety and testing that will be rolled out from next year.
The decision was arrived at a meeting of the empowered committee on midday meal headed by HRD minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday, October 15. Among other issues, the meeting stressed upon increasing safety measures in cooking and regular testing of cooked food.
The HRD ministry, however, chose to remain silent on the issue of increasing the remuneration of cook-cum-helpers who are paid a paltry Rs. 1,000 per month. Considered crucial to the midday meal operation, poor state of cook-cum-helpers has been pointed out by several independent studies. After last year’s tragedy in Bihar that led to the death of more than 20 children, poor working condition of cook-cum-helpers came to fore. The new government has already rejected a Cabinet note that proposed a monthly salary of Rs. 2,000 cook-cum-helpers and has since then been gathering dust in the ministry. As per estimates, increasing the salary could have led to an additional expenditure of Rs. 2,000 crore per annum.
In other issues discussed at the meeting, Irani asked state governments to resolve the issue of payment to Food Corporation of India which supplies foodgrains for MDM throughout the country. Since HRD ministry releases fund for food grains in advance, state governments were asked not to keep arrears. Bihar government that owes over Rs 100 crore to FCI was told to clear the arrears.
Bihar education minister Brishen Patel told the meeting that centralized kitchen be made at the block level so that teachers do not get involved in the task of cooking. It is unlikely that Patel’s suggestion will be accepted.