Monday, July 22, 2013

ISKCON Mid-Day Meal Reality Check

The mid day meal tragedy which claimed 23 lives in a Bihar school has shook the country. Two days after the tragedy struck a school in Bihar, ISKCON TRUTH teams visited different cities in the country to check the conditions of the ISKCON Mid-Day Meal  kitchens where food is cooked for mid day meals, which are served to government school students.
In Jaipur's Madrampura, the kitchen where mid day meals are cooked was set up by the Iskcon food relief foundation. The kitchen runs in a rented space of a chemical factory. The place where the food is cooked for children is just feet away from the machinery which ejects harmful chemicals. ISKCON TRUTH team also found that the storeroom of the kitchen has no doors and rice stored there contains rat excreta. When quizzed, Radha Krishna Das, director, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation (FRF) Said that “The Food grains and other ingredients supplied by the government are adulterated or of poor quality. BMC officials visit our kitchen only once or twice in a year for an inspection, Considering the increasing cost of electricity, gas supply and other requirements, the pitiable amount paid by the BMC leads to compromise in food quality by organisations. At present, contractors are paid Rs. 2-3 a meal a day. What’s worse, the BMC has even failed to pay the contractors on time. There is always a backlog of amount to be paid for the meals we serve. Two years ago, the BMC owed us around Rs. 2 crore for cooking charges. Some of that amount is yet to be paid.” 
On the other hand Manoj Kotak, chairman, education committee, BMC said “We have written to the government several times, demanding for a centralized kitchen or awarding all contract to an organisation such as ISKCON, who follow a full-proof system.”
The civic body, meanwhile, has come up with its own solution. “We have asked all school principals to taste the food before it is served to the children, so as to ensure that they are fed good quality food, said Mohan Adtani, additional municipal commissioner.
The midday meal prepared and supplied by the Iskcon Food Relief Foundation for Gurgaon does not reach the schools of faraway areas in time and as a result, students have to consume stale food, according to teachers of several such schools.
Teachers from the Shivji Park government primary school, Kadipur government primary school, and schools in Shivaji Nagar, Sohna, Farrukh Nagar and other areas said that on Thursday the food did not reach their schools before the stipulated 11.30am. In some areas, the food reached as late as 1pm.
"The food reaches our school after 1pm. This happens regularly. When we complain to the driver, he gives different excuses each times," said Sanjeev Kumar, a teacher in Kadipur government primary school.
"The khichdi they provide is not fit for consumption. Lots of water comes out when it is kept in our containers. We throw it away," said Kamla Devi, head teacher, Shivji Park school.
Teachers from far-flung areas like Sohna, Farrukh Nagar and Pataudi demand that there should be kitchens in every block so that the food reaches schools in time.
The teachers at Shivanji Nagar were furious over the not reaching the food in time. "If food is not reached in time students cannot concentrate in their studies. They are all from poor families and they come to school at 8 a.m without having any meal at their home." said Raj Rani, a teacher in charge of Midday meal Shivaji Nagar Government Primary School.
The food is prepared in a central kitchen located in Udyog Vihar near Hero HondaPremlata Yadav, district elementary education officer, said, "We had written to the directorate of education to divide the kitchen into four different blocks of Gurgaon, but are yet to get a response. We have received complaints on the delay and are writing to the directorate of education and the NGO concerned." Chowk and vans carry the food to all the schools.
"The cooking begins at 3am and meals are ready by 8am. It is then packed and loaded in the vans. The journey takes three to four hours depending on the traffic and by the time it reaches the schools, it's 1pm. The food is often stale," said Tarun Sihag, president, district primary school teachers association.
"The quality of the food should be examined by district food inspectors. The quantity should also be increased," he said.
When contacted, Prabhat Shukla, general manager, Iskcon Food Relief Foundation Midday Meal, said that the vans reach all the schools on time. "Of course, sometimes they may be late because of traffic jams or bad road conditions. As for developing kitchens at the block level, we have told the directorate of education that we don't have the resources to do that. If the government provides us the kitchen, we will install equipment there."

On the other hand Government praises Akshaya Patra Foundation run by ISKCON Bangalore. 
Akshaya Patra uses customized industrial steam generators and specifically designed vegetable cutting machines. The vehicles that transport cooked food to schools are heat insulated and dust-free special purpose vehicles. Little wonder the scheme was a Harvard Business School case study.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation feeds 1.3 million children in 19 locations across nine states in India every day, and served up its billionth meal last year. In Karnataka, the kitchens are located in Bangalore, Hubli and Bellary. None of them had any kind of a complaint but everyone had a positive feeling about this great cause.
"We are certified with ISO 22000 for our hygienic standards of kitchen. There are checklists for washing vessels in which food is transported, washing and cleaning vegetables, preparing chapattis, dal, storing raw material and also we have a lab for testing of raw material. We follow personal hygiene practices, pest control practices, storage practices, production practices and vehicle hygienic practices. Our workers are trained in kitchen hygiene," Akshaya Patra Foundation Jaipur president R Govind Dasa said.

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