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RTI reply shows 525 of 2,069 children from Delhi have fallen ill since 2004 after eating mid-day meals. (AP)
This July, 23 school children from a village in Bihar died after eating mid-day meals contaminated with pesticide. While the incident was the first such to be reported in the country, data shows that in the past 10 years, 2,069 children across the country have taken ill after consuming food provided under the mid-day meal scheme, with figure from Delhi topping the list.
According to data collected by The Indian Express under the Right To Information Act, 525 children from Delhi have fallen ill since 2004 after eating mid-day meals. This is despite the fact that Delhi caters to just 11.8 lakh children in over 3,547 schools. Bihar comes second with 485 children and Uttar Pradesh third with 205.
"Since Delhi is the capital, there are more cases reported from here than anywhere else. Even minor cases such as gastroenteritis or vomiting are recorded… which can be the reason for the high count of illnesses," Amit Singla, Director of Education, Delhi, said.
An official at the Union Human Resource and Development Ministry, however, blamed it on lack of proper monitoring structure and testing mechanisms in Delhi.
In 2012, all 250 samples from over 40 schools tested by Shriram Institute of Industrial Research were found below the prescribed standard, the official said. "During our inspection,we found that children did not have plates to eat from."
The Centre is now rolling out a policy to daily monitor the number of children eating midday meals across the country. Till now, monitoring was not done everyday.
"According to this system, an automated call to each school principal is made. He is supposed to report on the number of children eating the free meal. Through the data, we can pinpoint the schools where children are not provided food," Amod Kumar, a member of a sub-group on midday meal, said. According to him, while 35 per cent of the schools in UP did not serve midday meal in 2010, the figure shrunk to just 5 per cent in a year after the system was put in place.
The Centre is coming up with an emergency medical plan, which will ensure availability of first aid and emergency numbers all schools.
"The death of children in Gandaman village in Bihar's Saran district was also because they were not given medical attention immediately. At least 21 children died by the time they reached the hospital," the official said.