Bengaluru: Social groups and several activists are demanding that the contract of the Akshay Patra Foundation to provide mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka be terminated immediately as it is depriving them of nutritious food on religious grounds.
The Right to Food Campaign and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan have in a letter to the HRD ministry and state government pointed out that according to the mid-day meal scheme guidelines, the food should be both locally prepared and culturally relevant.
“The meal cannot be provided by a centralised agency that applies restrictions on it based on religious beliefs,” it argued, recalling that a 2015 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India had found that 187 samples of meals prepared by ISKCON failed to meet the prescribed standards.
Dr. Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor and researcher points out that the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education or the mid-day meal scheme lays emphasis on providing cooked meals with a minimum of 300 calories, eight to12 grams of proteins and adequate quantities of other nutrients.
“A majority of children in government schools are poor and need all the nutrition they can get – definitely a majority eat eggs and all of them eat garlic and onion. But Akshay Patra refuses to serve eggs that not only improve nutrition, but also help increase school attendance. The MoU for mid-day meals clearly states that no organisation should promote a religious agenda,” notes Dr.Karpagam.
Dr. Veena, retired deputy director of the National Institute of Nutrition too emphasises that no religious group or denomination has the right to decide what food the children should eat under the mid-day meal scheme.
“It’s well known that government school children come from modest backgrounds, and enjoy onion and garlic. Turning them against them can have serious consequences as the children could look down upon their community practices, and even their mother’s cooking,” she warned.
When contacted, the Akshaya Patra Foundation in a statement said its freshly cooked meals were in compliance with the nutritional norms prescribed by the MHRD. “It is our constant endeavour to contribute to the government’s efforts in promoting good health and nutrition among children. Akshaya Patra is committed to serving quality, hygienic and nutritious food to school children every day,” it added.