Karnataka: Group of citizens asks Centre to terminate contract to ISKCON-run NGO for mid-day meals

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Right To Food

Akshaya Patra last week had refused to sign a memorandum on the Karnataka government’s directive to include onions and garlic in the meals.

A group of citizens from across the country has written to the Ministry of Human Resource Development expressing concerns over the mid-day meals provided by Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has refused to include onions, garlic and eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet – a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature. The foundation had courted controversy last week for refusing to sign a memorandum for 2018-2019 following a directive by the Karnataka government to include onions and garlic in the meals.

The Right to Food Campaign and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan have demanded that the contracts given to Akshaya Patra for supply of mid-day meal be terminated and that eggs be supplied in all schools to the children of communities that are accustomed to eating them. “Religious diktats cannot supersede the application of established principles of the right to food to mid-day meal schemes,” the letter said

The letter has also been sent to the chief minister of Karnataka, food minister of Karnataka and director of the department of Women and Child Development, Karnataka.

The foundation is run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON. It promotes a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs, and avoids onions and garlic in food as it considers them to be “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”. Akshaya Patra claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India.

The Right to Food Campaign and the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan noted that according to the mid-day meal scheme guidelines, food provided should be locally prepared and culturally relevant. The meal should not be provided through a centralised agency that applies restrictions on the food based on religious beliefs, it said. The letter to the HRD ministry cited a 2015 report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India which found that 187 test samples of meals prepared by ISCKON failed to meet prescribed standards.

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