School meals in a mess in Jharkhand
poisoned milk served at a school's hostel in Ranchi killed five students and sickened 25 others a day before Children's Day. The police suspect the poisoning could be because of lack of hygiene at the hostel's mess and have sent viscera samples to a forensic lab in Ranchi.
The incident at Baridih Adivasi Residential School in Bero has again highlighted the poor quality of food served in schools in Jharkhand. In the past one year the state government received many complaints of poisoning from midday meals but ignored them. On September 13 this year, 20 students from Narega Middle School in East Singhbhum district were hospitalized after eating food that contained a lizard. On December 14 last year, 55 students from a government school in Dhanbad fell sick after a snake was found in the cooking utensil.
The November 13 incident has dealt an embarrassing blow to the state human resource and development (hrd) department. "We have ordered a probe into the deaths. We will not spare anyone," said hrd minister Bandhu Tirkey.
Investigations into the past cases of food poisoning have not led to action against school authorities. "Our investigation in the Narega Middle school case revealed that a lizard fell on the plate of a student. This affected the students psychologically and they started vomiting," said Purnanand Singh, the district programme officer of the Jharkhand Education Project in East Singhbhum. Parents of the students said they had submitted the cooked lizard for examination to project officials, but they ignored it.
While many issues need to be resolved, Tirkey is busy planning free haircuts and helicopter rides for students with 100 per cent attendance. The 2007-08 state government report on the midday meal scheme submitted to the Union government said 31 per cent of the children in Jharkhand are underweight and 54 per cent malnourished.