In 2001, the Indian Supreme Court mandated the implementation of a mid-day school lunch program with the explicit goal of feeding 120 million Indian children daily. For years, this program has been credited with increasing school attendance throughout India, as well as serving as a boon to a large malnourished population. This school lunch program has come under considerable scrutiny when, in a single day, two separate schools shut down with ill children-25 of which have died this past week. While politicians dodge accusations of corruption, many have made it clear that without adequate regulation, this program faces an uncertain future.
In 2001, the developing nation of India was, as it is today, plagued with undernourished and undereducated children. While entering the arena of developed nations was, as it is today, a major goal of India, the government understood that with undernourished and undereducated children, their goals would be harder to meet.
It may come as a surprise to many, but India has had a long culture of ensuring food for their young. Dating back to 1925, the Mid-Day Meal Program has grown from providing food to disadvantaged children of the Madras Municipal Corporation to feeding 120 million across the country.
The benefits of such a program are multi-faceted. On one hand, the program serves as an incentive for children to attend school and become educated. Where students don’t have adequate nutrition, lethargy makes learning near impossible. Through strict nutritional requirements, the program aimed to curb this issue. On the other, the program gives young children the nutrition necessary for healthy mental and physical development.
The Ministry of Human Resource Development reports “food norms have been revised to ensure balanced and nutritious diet to children of upper primary group by increasing the quantity of pulses from 25 to 30 grams, vegetables from 65 to 75 grams and by decreasing the quantity of oil and fat from 10 grams to 7.5 grams.”
Without any doubt, India’s recent economic growth has been impressive. Yet, despite the countries bourgeoning transformation into a powerful player, certain growth indicators remain stunted. With the United Nations Children’s Fund has reported that India boasts one third of the words undernourished children, programs such as the Mid-Day lunch program are crucial to further development.
With the events of the passed week, this program is under fire. In a matter of hours, 25 children from the Bihar state went from a health, happy disposition to vomiting, diarrhea, and death. Concurrently, in a nearby Bihar district, 60 children were hospitalized after exhibiting traits food poisoning.
After cursory investigation, the culprit was found to be cooking oil stored in a used insecticide container. With this revelation, charges of corruption levels of deregulation have been levied against all levels of government. Saurabh Sharma, a representative of New Delhi non-profit JOSH, has stated that “the government has no monitoring system about the quality of food”, he continues “the school principal will blame the private contractor who will blame the government for paying as little as four rupees [6 cents] per meal.”
With an incensed citizenry, many feel the program, or at least the breadth of the program will suffer unless adequate regulation is implemented. Without any doubt, such a program is absolutely necessary and absolutely zero patience should be afforded to government corruption. India’s future depends on it.