Widespread national concern over the poor quality of mid-day meals has been voiced following the Bihar tragedy. In addition, there are safety concerns arising from large-scale daily cooking of meals inside the school compound as over 80 children were burnt to death in a school in Tamil Nadu’s Kumbakonam in 2004.
Last but not the least, many teachers have complained of further decline in the quality of school education when they have to give a lot of their time to supervising cooking and food distribution.
All these problems can be sorted out by introducing an alternative system. This system also has the benefit of simultaneously helping anganwadis, providing employment to local women from weaker sections and helping organic farming.
According to this system, the responsibility of preparing and distributing mid-day meals will be given to Self-Help Groups (SHGs) of local women. These groups will be provided with some initial capital in its bank account by the government.
The government will also provide a clean kitchen, utensils and wherever practical, a cooking gas connection. The kitchen will be near the school but not inside the school.
The SHGs will prepare nutritious traditional local dry foods, which will vary according to the season.
The raw material will be purchased from local or nearby organic farmers at a price which provides due encouragement to organic farming.
In addition, fruits that can be distributed and eaten easily, such as oranges and bananas, will also be procured.
Twice every day, at attendance time and tiffin time, women from the SHGs will go to the local schools and distribute the dry food (or fruits) after tasting it.
The teachers will merely have to sign the papers for food received for so many children. The government will quickly make payments on the basis of these papers at a rate that gives a good margin to the SHGs.
The groups can also provide nutritious food at anganwadi centres. After fulfilling these two commitments on a priority basis, the groups can also sell its products commercially.
In this proposed system, a lot of employment and income potential for women from weaker sections can be tapped. Over a period of time, on-the-job training can also be provided to members of the SHGs.