Documents seen by The Federal show that Lakshadweep’s midday meal program will likely be transferred to the NGO Akshaya Patra, widely criticized in other states for its school menu.
The Lakshadweep administration’s decision to cut meat from the midday meal menu at Lakshadweep is part of a larger business plan – to hand the entire program over to Bangalore-based NGO Akshaya Patra, led by the ‘ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness). , an organization that has previously been criticized by food rights activists for the nutritional deficiency in the meals provided by them.
Akshaya Patra offers a vegetarian menu in their school lunch program, strictly omitting even garlic and onion. Documents consulted by Federal prove that the Lakshadweep administration plans to impose an unfamiliar food culture on the inhabitants of the island. A meeting of the Union Territory Monitoring Committee and the District Working Group for the implementation of the midday meal program was held on January 27, 2021 in the conference room of the Secretariat in Kavaratti.
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According to the minutes of the meeting, a letter was sent from the Planning and Statistics Department dated January 8, 2021 stating that an action plan has been submitted to transfer the midday meal program from Lakshadweep to Akshaya. Patra.
All members of the Panchayat District who attended the meeting unanimously opposed this proposal which is recorded in the minutes. “Now we provide a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian food for children. There is mutton / chicken, egg, fish, fruits, vegetables, rice and dal on the menu. We were asked to omit meat from the menu, but we opposed it, ”said Noorjahan, one of the members of the Panchayat district of Kavaratti.
Talk to FederalNoorjahan said he was deeply concerned that the administration is trying to force a fully vegetarian meal on children. “We agree if they want to avoid beef, but we insisted that chicken or mutton should be included as it is very necessary to ensure adequate protein intake. But they insist that we should avoid meat altogether. They told us earlier that fish and eggs would be included in the menu, but we’re very skeptical about that too now, ”Noorjahan said.
So far, there is no clarity on the changes in the lunch menu offered to children. If the plan to hand over the midday meal program to “Akshaya Patra” comes to fruition, the children of the island will have to opt for a full vegetarian menu, even without garlic and onion. The Lakshadweep administration has yet to clearly define its plan in relation to the midday meal program.
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At the press conference in Kochi, Askar Ali, the district collector of Lakshadweep, told the media that the intention to exclude meat from the menu was “to help fishermen by including more fish”.
When Federal contacted Askar Ali by phone, he declined to confirm what the proposed new menu would be. While asked about plans to bring Akshaya Patra on board, the collector said the administration was exploring all possible options.
“The menu will be decided by a committee headed by the district receiver, and we explored what would be best for the children,” he said. Is there a flaw in the existing system and is there something that needs to be fixed?
“The existing system is good. The children are given good food, but we want to change the system of teachers who directly supervise the midday meal. We want to give it to an external agency to get a better result, ”admitted the District Collector. The total number of children accessing lunch at Lakshadweep is only 12,000 in 62 schools.
According to members of the local body, they have no difficulty in managing the program with central support and local funds. The people of Lakshadweep do not understand the reasoning behind the introduction of an outside agency that is unable to meet the needs of children on the island.
Akshaya Patra’s agenda – ending hunger in the classroom – has been widely criticized by many right to food activists in other states.
“There is a serious crisis of malnutrition among the children who access the midday meal they provide. The majority of children who study in public schools are Dalits, Adivasi and minority communities. The omission of meat, eggs, onions and garlic from the menu is solely based on their religious reasons. Civil society actors and even the Karnataka National Food Commission have consistently opposed this program, ”observed Dr Sylvia Karpagam, public health doctor who is part of the right to food campaign. in Karnataka.