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Midday meal deaths: Centre never sent us any alerts, says Bihar govt

Patna: Bihar government today expressed "surprise" over the Centre's assertion that it had sent alerts for 12 Bihar districts, including Saran, where 23 children died after consuming midday meal.

"We are surprised over the assertions of the Union government over sending alerts...no alerts ever came to us," Principal Secretary HRD Amarjeet Sinha told reporters.

Sinha said a general communique had come in April regarding poor performance in coverage of midday meal scheme in 144 districts of the country. "The letter dated April 18, 2013 written by Amarjit Singh, Additional Secretary, pointed to reasons for poor coverage of the scheme in 144 districts of the country and had asked officials to take steps to enroll more students in the programme," Sinha said.

In fact a central government report praised performance of Bihar in increasing coverage area under midday meal scheme, Sinha accompanied by Director, Midday meal scheme R Lakshamanan said.

As per the "Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2012, the coverage area in Bihar of the programme which was 57.2 percent in 2010 increased to 75 percent last year, Sinha said.

PTI

One of the children who fell ill after eating midday meal in school at the hospital. PTI

The ASER report also hailed performance on other counts like increase in availability of drinking water, toilets, kitchen shed and library available and books used in schools in the state during the period, the Principal Secretary said.

On the FSL (Forensic Science Laboratory) report on whether the food served at primary school Dharamsati Gandaman on Tuesday last contained poisonous pesticide, Sinha said the lab test is taking more time and the report is expected either late tonight or tomorrow.

The Central government communique addressed to District Magistrates of Patna, Buxar, Rohtas, Gaya, Bhojpur, Nalanda, Saran, Siwan, Muzaffarpur, Kaimoor and Nawada had said "a little effort on your part will go a long way in ensuring that no child remains hungry in the school but also the basic health and hygiene needs of children are met."

The letter addressed to colleagues further said "We can surely ensure that the poor children entrusted in our charge by the people of India have at least one hearty nutritious meal a day."

The ASER report whose figures are based on visits to government schools in a randomly sampled village in Bihar on a given day in September-October-November, mentioned that drinking water available and usable in all schools had increased from 78.7 percent in 2010 to 85.4 percent in 2012.

Toilets available rose from 33.6 percent to 51.2 during the period besides kitchen shed increased from 64 per cent to 74.1 percent during the period.

The Bihar HRD Department Principal Secretary said that FSL report would confirm the percentage of killer pesticide in the food or whether the vegetable was cooked entirely in the pesticide oil.

On action initiated in the tragic incident, Sinha said an FIR has been lodged against Principal of the school Meena Devi under IPC 302 (murder) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy). Block Resource person has been suspended and explanation sought from a teacher of the school for remaining absent on that day, he added.

Sinha repeated that a study by A N Sinha Institute of Social Studies and Jamia Milia University had pointed to poor hygiene standard in some places under midday meal. "We acted promptly and inspected over 1.25 lakh schools and provided training to Principal and cooks of the midday meal," Sinha and Lakshamanan said.

Lakshmanan said during inspections of schools last year, a total 2,326 cases of disciplinary irregularities were found in the implementation of midday meal scheme and 54 FIRs lodged were there was report of financial irregularities and criminal negligence of norms.

Sinha and Lakshmanan said that in the wake of shocking incident at Dharmasati Gandaman in Saran district, an appeal has been made to members of school education committee that one member among them should test the food under the programme before it is served to the students.

He said District Magistrates have been asked to take steps for tagging schools which does not have its own building and proper kitchen shed and storage facility with a nearby school having such facility.

Sinha said request would be made to elected representatives, including MP, MLA, MLC and Corporators to make surprise inspection of schools in their areas so that lacunae could be plugged.

PTI

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