Skip to main content

Dismay over Karnataka govt supporting view that eggs, onion, garlic "promote" negativity

Counterview Desk
In a letter to the Karnataka chief secretary, a group of 20 top civil society representatives and experts* has taken strong exception to the manner in which the state government has allowed the Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) to “impose" of its religious beliefs in midday meals in schools, allegedly in complete violation of the “prescribed” menu. The signatories have taken exception to APF refusing to provide eggs as also use onion and garlic in the food supplied because it considers these foods as ‘tamasik’ --  denoting "a class of foods that are thought to promote pessimism, ignorance, laziness, criminal tendencies, and doubt."
Seeking broader public support for its campaign against APF, the group, which is identified itself as Namma Aahara Namma Samskriti, said, it is “dismayed” at the manner in which the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) has sent an “unscientific, biased and irresponsible response” to the request from Government of Karnataka (GoK) regarding assessment of nutritional value of food supplied by APF. 
Those who have signed the letter to the chief secretary include representatives of the Right to Food Campaign-Karnataka, and Action Aid, Bangalore.
APF has been supplying food to 2,814 schools in Karnataka as part of the midday meals scheme (MDM), fully funded by Government of India (GoI) and GoK. The scheme aims at providing students studying in the schools a nutritious meal containing "locally and culturally relevant" food, which children should find tasty enough to eat in adequate quantity.
Things took a strange turn following the Karnataka State Food Commission (KSFC) and civil society groups taking exception to onions and garlic being excluded from the Midday Meal menu despite the fact they are part of the traditional foods like sambhar in Karnataka. Despite the KSFC view, the GoK asked NIN and Central Food Technical Research Institute (CFTRI) for "technical inputs" on nutritional adequacy, bio-availability, diet diversity, taste and food safety and hygiene.
In its response, CFTRI refused to comment on the nutritional quality, taste, diversity and safety of food supplied by APF, even as seeking “sufficient time and resources to do a proper assessment”, while NIN praising APF without carrying out any systematic scientific study.
According to activists and experts, “No empirical data was collected on the quantity and quality of ingredients used or amount consumed and amount wasted by children to certify food supplied by APF as nutritionally adequate. Instead, a paper menu submitted by APF, was considered evidence enough to comment on an aspect of the scheme which have nutritional impact on lakhs of children!”
“Even more shockingly”, they argue, “Without visiting a single school or speaking to children consuming the food, NIN has taken the unwarranted liberty of commenting on the taste and safety of the food even which fly in the face of observations by State Food Commission of monotony of the food supplied by APF or media reports of children vomiting after consuming the food on some occasions."  Click HERE for the group's response to NIN and CFTRI arguments.  

Letter to the chief secretary:

We, the undersigned, are activists, doctors and researchers working on issue of Right to Food and are deeply concerned about the continued inaction of the State government on the serious issue of Akshay Patra Foundation’s refusal to comply with directions (Annexure 1) and contractual obligations (Annexure 2a, 2b) to include onion and garlic in Mid-day meals.
Akshaya Patra Foundation (APF) which is linked to International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a religious organization which holds the belief that ingredients like onion and garlic are not ‘sattvik’ and should not be consumed. By not including these ingredients in the food supplied as part of Mid-day Meals scheme in Karnataka, it is imposing its religious beliefs on children studying in publicly funded (government-run and government-aided) schools which is expressly prohibited by Guidelines issued by Ministry of Human and Resource Development (MHRD) under the National Food Security Act (NFSA) 2013. Sec 5 (2) of the NFSA 2013 states that
“(2) Every school, referred to in clause (b) in sub-section (1), and anganwadi shall have facilities for cooking meals, drinking water and sanitation:
Provided that in urban areas facilities of centralised kitchens for cooking meals may be used, wherever required, as per guidelines issued by the Central Government." 
The Revised Guidelines 2017 for engagement of Civil Society Organizations/ Non Govt. Organisations (CSO/NGO) in Midday Meal Scheme) (Annexure 3) issued by MHRD states in para 2.11 that
"2.11 The CSO/NGO should not discriminate in any manner on the basis of religon, caste and creed, and should not use the programme for propagation of any religious practice.”
Despite this clear provision in the Guidelines, APF is being allowed to impose its “sattvik” food through a government scheme. As a result, as noted by Karnataka State Food Commission during its visits to schools where food is being supplied by APF, the food is bland and monotonous.
Consequently, the quantity of food being consumed by children is less than the prescribed quantity, defeating the purpose of the scheme. Bengaluru, Dharwad and Ballari, where APF has been supplying mid-day meals through its centralized kitchens are among the five worst performing districts in terms of coverage of the scheme (Annexure 4).
Similar concerns were raised in 2013 by the Programme Approval Board (PAB) following which Bengaluru (Urban) and Dharwad were designated as Special Focus Districts (Poor Utilization of Foodgrains and and Low coverage of Children) (Annexure 1) because as noted by the then Commissioner:
“The NGOs which are involved in implementation of Mid-day Meals scheme across the state are supplying same kind of food every day to schools, using same kind of vegetables every day and instead of using food ingredients as per the local food customs, are preparing food following their own organization’s food practices and supplying it to children. Because of this, not only are children not eating the food with enjoyment but monitoring institutions have also raised objections. Not only that, during visits to schools, the opinion sought from children also supplements this.”
Because of the concerns raised, a specific menu was prescribed for contracting parties to follow. APF is one of the largest suppliers to both these special focus districts but it has consistently violated the prescribed menu norms, even as the Department failed in its duty to enforce these directions.
APF has been trying to divert these serious issues by claiming that its food meets nutritional requirements prescribed by Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Instead of enforcing the prescribed menu, the department has gone along with these diversionary tactics by asking for technical reports from National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) and Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI).
A scientific evaluation of nutritional quality of the food supplied under MDM scheme would require following proper protocols of sampling, measuring and ascertaining the quantity and quality during actual process of preparation and consumption of food along with discussions with various stakeholders involved, especially the children eating the food.
No such detailed analysis has been done by NIN. They have made recommendations based on a menu provided by APF which doesn’t even mention the quantities of ingredients used to prepare the meals. In absence of this information, it is scientifically impossible to estimate nutritional value of food prepared.
In view of such serious lapses, it is clear that the conclusions reached by NIN are unscientific and biased, void of any basis in any systematic study and have been provided only to give a clean chit to APF.
CFTRI, in its response has rightly expressed its inability to answer questions pertaining to nutritional value of food supplied, its taste and diversity etc in absence of a systematic study.
On the question of alternatives to onion and garlic, CFTRI seems to suggest that onion and garlic can be replaced by other ingredients like turmeric, drum stick, lime, green leafy vegetables (GLV), jeera etc. But CFTRI has failed to provide any details of the quantities of these ingredients or take into account the seasonal nature and cost of these ingredients.
More importantly, it has not challenged the basic issue which is – why should onions and garlic which are traditionally used in cooking in Karnataka, particularly for sambar, be denied to children in government schools? Why should the religious beliefs of the contractor be given preference over that of the children, especially when the MDM guidelines clearly state that the scheme cannot be used for religious propaganda by the contractor?
Why are these suggested ingredients being treated as alternatives? Why can’t they be provided along with onion and garlic? Why should school-going children be denied a a normal sambhar with onion and garlic for taste, just because an NGO’s private religious beliefs go against it? We have provided a detailed critique of the ‘reports’ submitted by NIN and CFTRI along with this letter (Annexure 5).
Several of these concerns were raised with you in our Memorandum dated March 2, 2019 (Annexure 6) but these violations seems to have continued unchecked. The lack of will of the government to hold Akshaya Patra Foundation accountable for adhering to the directions issued by the government itself, indicates government’s approval of the religious agenda of Akshaya Patra Foundation which is not just in violation of Mid-Day Meals Guidelines issued by MHRD but is in violation of the basic values of the Constitution of India as well.
We urge you to put the interest of children studying in government schools ahead of the interest of a religious organization and not to delay taking a decision in this matter. The government should either seek a firm commitment from APF that they would be following the prescribed menu including onion and garlic in the next school year or make alternative arrangements for provision of mid-day meals to the schools catered to by APF.
Along with this, we also note with concern, the move away from supplying hot-cooked food under Mid-day Meal Scheme through decentralized kitchens. Centralised kitchens, which were introduced as exception to the general rule of decentralized kitchens are increasingly been relied on by the government.
This not only deprives children of locally-cooked hot meals but also bypasses Supreme Court Orders in People’s Union for Civil Liberties vs Union of India (WP(C) 196/2001) passed on 20th April 2004 regarding preference to be given to Dalits, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in appointment of cooks and helpers. We urge the government to start moving towards decentralized kitchens and away from Centralised kitchen-based provision of food.
Lastly, we reiterate our demand for inclusion of eggs in the Mid-day meals scheme in view of the nutritional guidelines prescribing consumption of 5 eggs per week, especially considering high rates of malnutrition in Karnataka.
---
*Click HERE for signatories

Comments

Menon said…
I think there is more to this than meets the eye. The signatories are the same people who were screaming about their right to at beef (banned by law brought by Indian National Congress in the 50s in 22 States). Are they not encroahing on the right of children not to ear garlic and stuff?

I have tasted the food thats given by Government "decentralised" kitchens for 5 rupee some paise that these people are extolling and the 15rupee+ food given by APF. The difference in taste and quality is awsome. Garlic and onior re intended to mask he unfavorable taste and smell in many food items. Kashmiri dishes are heavenly and NEVER use garlic or onion.

I think it is an unnecessary controversy with uletrior religio-political undercurrents that need to be avoied for public good.

TRENDING

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

Across the board, among Muslims, Hindus, there's enormous fury at Delhi Police: Report

Counterview Desk
A quick report, prepared by Delhi's concerned citizens, "Let Us Heal Our Dilli", based on one-day visit (February 27) to several areas and mohallas of North East Delhi affected by the riots that gripped the country's capital -- Bhajanpura, Chand Bagh, Gokulpuri, Chaman Park, Shiv Vihar, Main Mustafabad (including Bhagirathi Vihar and Brijpuri) -- has said everywhere there is "zero trust" towards that the police.

Big 'danger' of NPR: A babu can tag anyone as doubtful citizen, Jharkhand meet told

' By Our Representative
People in large numbers from across Jharkhand gathered at the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi to demand that the Hemant Soren government reject National Population Register (NPR) and stop all NPR-related activities. The people’s organisations which participated in the dharna under the banner of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM) resolved to intensify their struggle, insisting, NPR is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but is essentially anti-poor.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Haridwar Swamis lead Khudai Khidmatgar peace march in Delhi 'riot affected' areas

By Our Representative
A Khudai Kidmatgar team, which visited the riot-affected regions along with Swami Shivanand Saraswati and Swami Punyanand, has insisted that India's true heritage is the lesson of ‘vasudhaiv kutumbakam', and it is the responsibility of all to carry froward this legacy. Originally founded by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in 1930, also known as Frontier Gandhi, Khudai Khidmatgar is claimed to have been revived by young Gandhian activist Faisal Khan in 2011.