The Times Of India: Bhilai: Amid the midday meal scare in Bihar and other similar incidents hitting headlines, schools around steel city Bhilai, see a silver lining with 'Akshaya Patra', providing hygienic and tasty food from its centralized kitchen. It cooks, packs and supplies hot meal to over 29,000 students in and around Bhilai leading to an excellent improvement in attendance of students.
Setting its mark, Akshaya Patra, jingled as 'unlimited food for education'. It has tied students to its tasty, hot-served meal, shooting up the attendance to above 84 per cent in the last six years, claims a survey by ORG Centre for Social Research. The impact of midday meal in classroom has made students score above 50 per cent, according to the study.
Anyone entering the factory-like kitchen has to wear slippers, gloves and caps and meals are stirred out in huge vessels, untouched by humans. The cooking starts at five in the morning and finished by eight. The vehicles for transportation are washed before the meal boards them and are heat insulated and dust-free.
The social service organization, which went operational in Bhilai in 2008, is recorded as the largest midday meal provider by Limca Book of Records and aims to feed 50 lakh students by the year 2020.
Serving around 158 schools in and around Bhilai, Akshaya Patra maintains a non-negotiable hygienic kitchen keeping food safety as the top priority and packs food in hot stainless steel boxes and sends through customized vans to feed 95 per cent of school students. "The only complaint is that students demand dry vegetable without gravy, but our cooking machines are yet to reach that stage," President of Akshaya Patra, Bhilai, Vyomapada Das told TOI.
While there is a demand from many other schools for the facility, the NGO is facing resistance from a few powerful local politicians. Akshaya Patra, which is serving 1.3 million school students in nine states, is ready to extend the facility to other parts of the state as well if given support by the state government.
Das admitted that the modern plant is underutilized. "It is capable to prepare above 50,000 meals but we feed only 29,000. The cost per child born by the organization is Rs 8, out of which Rs 4 is paid by the government and Rs 2.50 by Bhilai Steel Plant," he said.