NEW DELHI: The midday meal scheme is often credited for drawing children to schools and also for cut in dropouts, but it has had its share of controversies. The latest row to hit the programme surrounds Akshaya Patra, a charitable organisation run by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), otherwise known as the Hare Krishna movement.
Akshaya Patra claims that it serves "wholesome" school lunch to over 1.76 million children in 15,024 schools across 12 states in India.
It found itself in the midst of a controversy after an article in a national daily claimed that school-children in Karnataka were not happy with the food provided by the organisation as it lacked garlic and onion.
Following this, many people bashed Akshaya Patra for forcing its own food preference on the children, while others raised questions about nutrition. Some even claimed that food was being wasted as the children were not eating the meals served by Akshaya Patra.
"The size of a programme doesn't prove that it's working. Children are not eating enough food because onions and garlic play a major part in Indian food. Due to this, there is large amount of wastage of food," claimed Twitter user Sunil Revathi.
However, the claim was countered by T.V. Mohandas Pai, who is on the board of the trustee of Akshaya Patra. "You are lying: any data you have to make this statement?" Pai shot back.
Some supporters of the organisation pointed out that food without onion and garlic could be quite nutritious and since it is a charitable organisation, it should reserve the right to decide what it serves as long as it does not violate the norms for midday meals laid down by the government.
Akshaya Patra said that it follows all the norms laid down by the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
"We have regular quality audits, food safety audits etc. We have given our blood, sweat, tears and personal monies for our children: we follow norms of MHRD; for this selfless service over 20 years we are being abused!," Pai said.
"We also have 17 ISO 22000: 2005 certified kitchens, which are testaments to our priority of protecting the health of children," the official handle of the organisation tweeted on Friday.
After the controversy, many social media users came forward to offer donations to the organisation. The call for more donation to the organisation was given by author Anand Ranganathan.
"The only way bigoted, illogical, anti-science, Hinduphobic vested interests can be silenced, is when you put your money where your mouth is. Please donate to @AkshayaPatra. And do reply with a confirmation that you have done so. Very grateful. Thanks," he said in a tweet on Friday while giving a link to the donation page of the organization.
While Ranganathan did not reveal the exact amount of money collected after his call, he did mention that the organisation received 510 donation in just 11 hours and the average donation size was Rs 3,800 - which amounts to Rs 19.38 lakh - in addition to Rs 2 lakh in one single donation.
"Just crossed 510 donations in 11 hours. Average donation size now Rs 3,800 excluding the one single donation of Rs 2 lacs. Please keep them coming. Thank you so much everyone, but above all, thank you @AkshayaPatra. You are an inspiration. And the pride of India," Ranganathan said.