Civil Rights organisations Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (People’s Health Movement) and Right to Food Campaign have written a letter to officials expressing their concerns over the recent controversy surrounding the Akshaya Patra foundation and its provision of midday meals.
The Akshaya Patra foundation was recently under much scrutiny after it had refused to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the government of Karnataka. The organisation which has been providing midday meals to over 4 lakh children for several years now, is being required to include onion and garlic in preparation of its meals.
Akshaya Patra is an NGO which is one of the largest providers of midday meals to children in the state of Karnataka, and is declining to accept the current MoU by the state government, as it believes in preparing ‘satvik’ food, which does not include garlic or onion. Moreover, various Zilla Panchayats had raised concerns that the quantity of the food provided by Akshaya Patra to each child was less than 150 gm and in most cases the food was cold and monotonous in taste. The Food Commission of Karnataka had recently conducted inspections in various districts and found that cold milk was being provided during mid-day meals, violating Ksheera Bhagya norms that mandated distribution of hot milk. In some cases, the milk was spoilt.
However, officials from the NGO did state that the food they prepared was made in compliance with the nutritional requirements of midday meals as stated by the MHRD.
Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA) and Right to Food Campaign have submitted a copy of their letter to several departments including the DPI, Karnataka Chief Minister’s office among others, seeking Akshaya Patra’s contract to be terminated at once.
“Religious diktats cannot supersede the application of established principles of the right to food to mid-day meal schemes. The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has been providing mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka, has refused to sign the memorandum for 2018-19. The State government has directed the NGO to include onion and garlic in the food, based on recommendations from the State food Commission, which the NGO is refusing to comply with. The NGO has also not been providing eggs in the MDM as part of its ‘satvik’ diet. However, this point has not yet been raised by the government. This standoff highlights the position of rights-based campaigns that mid-day meals should be locally prepared and culturally relevant and not provided through a centralised agency, especially one that applies limits to the food on the basis of religious belief,” states the letter.
Another issue which is being highlighted is the lack of eggs in the NGO’s meals. For about seven years now, eggs have not been part of the midday meal scheme in view of religious reasons. Several parents allegedly felt that non-egg eating children would be tempted to eat eggs.
“Children require a certain amount of protein intake everyday for normal growth and development. No matter what substitutes may have been provided, eggs are a sure-fire way to ensure that those daily required intake values are met,” states Dr Keerthika V, from Mysore.
Responding to the criticism, Akshaya Patra stated that its meals met the standards issued by the MHRD.
“There were some reports regarding the menu supplied by Akshaya Patra as part of its meal. We are currently studying these reports and are working with the concerned authorities to obtain more information. We would like to clarify that our freshly cooked meals are in compliance with the nutritional norms prescribed by the MHRD, Government of India. It is our constant endeavour to contribute to the Government’s efforts in promoting good health and nutrition amongst children which is essential for their holistic growth and development. Akshaya Patra is committed to serve quality, hygienic and nutritious food to school children every day and implement Akshara Dasoha, the flagship mid-day programme of the Government of Karnataka,” stated an email from Akshaya Patra to TNM.