PANAJI: Along with few states and UTs like Chandigarh, Assam and Tamil Nadu, Goa shells out one of the highest state share for a midday meal per child per day. Following pressure from self-help groups supplying the meals in Goa, the state enhanced its share again last year, taking the per meal cost to Rs 6.11 at the primary school level and Rs 7.26 at the upper primary school level.
This is much above the national average of Rs 4.13 for primary students and Rs 6.18 for upper primary students spent by most states.
The price per meal in Goa can be considered quite high as a full-fledged meal is not served in the state (for instance, vegetable biryani is one meal on Tamil Nadu menu) as the state’s schools only function for five-and-a-half hours a day, unlike the full-day schooling in most other states and Union territories.
Yet, at least two cases on an average are reported every year of students taking ill on consuming midday meals in Goa. The year, 2013, was one of the worst, where six cases of contamination of food served as part of the midday meals were reported. The state has not blacklisted a single self-help groups against whom complaints were received till date.
Altogether 109 women’s self-help groups are engaged to supply the midday meals across Goa. Their demands to revise the price paid per meal is mainly based on the argument that the cost of living is higher in Goa than other states.
In fact, the state government faced much opposition from self-help groups when chapatis were introduced in the meals last year. The self-help groups claimed that the making so many chapatis was cumbersome for them.
No additional items are served as part of the meal in Goa as well like in most states, where eggs, hot milk, fresh fruits are provided at least once a week to enhance the nutritional level of the meal.
Whenever the food and drugs administration (FDA) found proof of contamination of the meals in Goa, the self-help group involved was suspended, only for their contract to be renewed after a gap.
Take the June 2013 case of Shri Mallkarjun Vidyalaya High School, Canacona, where the FDA found E coli microorganism in the meal after chemical analysis and the food was declared unfit for consumption. The contract of the self-help group was initially suspended. But FDA soon revoked the suspension of the license of Omkar self-help group and the directorate of education decided to restore the contract.
The latest case of midday meal contamination in Goa was reported in March this year.
Some students continue to refuse the meals in Goa due to these issues. Around 86,000 students at the primary school level and 55,000 at the upper primary school level.
The state and Centre, together, shell out around Rs 12.50 crore on the midday meal scheme in Goa annually.
This article was first published on Times of India on 20th Aug 2017