Tamil Nadu might have been ahead of most States when it comes to the mid-day meal scheme, not only as the pioneer of the programme but also in setting standards. But the recent tragedy at Neyveli calls for a recheck at the state of affairs at the grassroots.
One of the main requirements under the mid-day meal scheme has been clean kitchen sheds for cooking and storage. But at the moment, thousands of schools still do not have kitchens. In a number of schools, classrooms are used as kitchens.
As per the Rashatriya Madhayamic Shikasha Abhiyan’s (RMSA) report of 2012-13, as many as 2,918 schools in the State do not have kitchens. In Vellore district alone, 231 schools still do not have kitchens.
According to a primer on the mid-day meal schemes submitted by economists and social activists part of the right to food campaigns, “Kitchen sheds are vital from the point of view of safety — to avoid contamination, fires, and accidents. There should be protection from smoke through chimneys, smokeless chulhas and exhaust fans. Storage facilities are a must to protect against rodents and infestation.”
A review mission on Mid-Day Meal Scheme in TN undertaken by the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development in November 2011 found that a large number of kitchen-cum-stores sanctioned by the Central government are yet to be constructed. It also pointed out that in National Child Labour Project Schools in the State, as kitchens are not available, food is cooked under sun shades and in corridors.
Other districts with a large number of such schools include Villupurum, Thirunelveli, Thiruvannamalai, Kancheepurum, and Thanjavur.