The Indian Express: A parliamentary committee on the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes has sought "thorough examination" of allegations against prominent NGOs like ISKCON and Akshaya Patra, engaged by state governments for supply of midday meals.
"It has been alleged that ISKCON and Akshaya Patra are collecting unauthorised and illegal donations from public, in India and abroad, for the government-sponsored midday meal scheme for school children in Karnataka," the committee has said in its report on "prevention of untouchability in midday meal scheme in government-run schools".
The report also notes that "cook-cum-helpers were agitating on the involvement of Akshay Patra Foundation because it was depriving them of employment... The independent monitoring institute of the scheme has also reported that the foundation is not serving eggs on the plea that it serves only vegetarian meals".
The committee has said the allegations should be "examined thoroughly and, if found guilty, action should be initiated against the NGO and its involvement in the scheme should be reviewed/ monitored".
The panel has said the "credentials of all NGOs involved in the scheme should be verified", and the state governments should periodically check the functioning of these NGOs and proper utlisation of funds.
When contacted, H G Radha Krishna Das, managing programme director, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation, said: "I refute the charge that it is illegal to seek donations when the finance ministry has bestowed 100 per cent tax exemption for all donations made to the ISKCON Food Relief Foundation... As far as serving eggs is concerned, those demanding it are free to get them from elsewhere."
He added that ISKCON was open to any inquiry, but all self-help groups involved in the scheme also be probed.
Chanchalapathi Das, vice chairman and trustee of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, said the allegations were very "inappropriate". "We have been very transparent with our accounts and share our annual reports with all MPs and MLAs of the states where we serve," he said, adding that the organisation would respond after receiving an official communication.
On the issue of serving eggs, Das said the meals provided were prepared scientifically and with required nutritional value.
On reports of caste-based discrimination/segregation in serving of midday meals in over 180 schools across five states, the committee has sought "exemplary punishment" for teachers who may be playing a role in "perpetuating untouchability and sowing seeds of caste-related discrimination in young minds".