Centre raises concern on Punjab’s testing of mid may meals, only 6 samples taken last year

Patiala The Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has asked Punjab to work to ensure the quality of Mid Day Meals (MDMs) it provides, after the state education department admitted that only six samples of these meals were taken for laboratory testing in academic session 2019-20. Over 14 lakh children in both primary and upper primary schools are covered under the MDM scheme in the state.

It is also learnt that even these six samples were taken from just three districts of the state, with no testing from the rest of the 19 districts. Now, the MHRD has also directed the education department to carry out a social audit of the scheme in all districts.

A social audit is a tool for monitoring and reviewing the official record of scheme with public’s participation to ensure proper implementation of scheme.

All these issues were raised in the recent meeting of the Programme Approval Board – Mid Day Meal (PAB-MDM) of the MHRD held through video conferencing, to consider annual work plan and budget 2020-21. The meeting was informed that 19 complaints on food grain, quality and quantity of MDM were received and taken care of. The MHRD directed the department to get meals tested through accredited laboratories across the state.

On cooks and helpers working without gloves, the education department said, “Due to the scarcity of funds, the cooks- cum-helpers have not been provided with gloves. Head-gear and aprons are being used while cooking of food.”

MDM general manager Prabhcharan Singh refused to comment on issue. “I am not authorised to speak, please talk to DPI elementary education.” DPI elementary education Lalit Ghai said, “Let me check,” and disconnected the call.

Punjab education minister Vijay Inder Singla, said, “Currently, foodgrain are being supplied to students at their homes as MDM. Punjab State Civil Supplies Corporation Limited (PUNSUP) is ensuring quality. As soon as the situation is normal, we will assign the task of sample collection to health department and will provide gloves to cooks-cum-helpers.”

Singla claimed that the state government had also allocated foodgrains and cooking cost for summer holidays for the first time in the history. He also claimed that 8,263 metric tones (MT) of foodgrain had been sent to schools to deliver rice and wheat in sealed packets to students for the first financial quarter of the academic session 2020-21.

The state education department told MHRD that they have started social audit in three districts of Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala in association with Panjab University. The ministry asked the state to speed up the project.