Column: A Good Move

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has taken a step in right direction by asking ministers to make surprise visits to check the quality of food served to children at schools and orphanages. They have also been instructed to share meals with students in schools and the inmates of orphanages.

Equally significant is the directive that ministers should have lunch at Aahar centres and government-run rehabilitation centres for differently abled during their visits to districts. The obvious aim of these visits would be to check the quality of fare being served at these places because it is food subsidised by the government and ought to be both satisfying and healthy.

The instructions make it clear that these visits should be unannounced and ministers should not be accompanied by more than three to four persons. This is important because politicians are wont to carry their hangers-on during visits to districts. For them this is a way of showing their importance.

There is little doubt that the instructions issued to the ministers is part of government’s recently launched Mo Sarkar drive which is an attempt to improve the quality of governance and make people feel that those in power actually care for them. It had begun with a bid to make police people-friendly and hospitals free of touts and is now being extended to other areas of governance.

Checking the quality of food at places where it is either being served free or at highly subsidized rates is important from health point of view. Government’s own image depends on it because schemes like Aahar and free mid-day meals have earned it a lot of good will which has been translated into votes during the elections.

But in the past there have been complaints galore against the quality of mid-day meal fare. There have been several instances of poor quality food being served and even insects being found in meals. Once it happened in a primary school at Hinjili which happens to be part of chief minister, Naveen Patnaik’s constituency.

Fortunately the cooked food had not been served to any student when the insect was detected in the soya curry at at primary school. The food was immediately returned to the private organisation that had been entrusted with the job of supplying hygienic and nutritional mid-day meals to 390 schools in Hinjili and Chhatrapur blocks and in the Berhampur Municipal Corporation area in Ganjam district.

Such incidents have also taken place in other parts of the state. A few years ago there was public furore over the supply of substandard ‘dal’ for mid-day meals. It turned into a major political issue and led to the resignation of the then women and child development minister, Pramila Mallick.

Eversince maintaining the quality of mid-day meals has been a sensitive issue with the government because it involves the health of children. With the government initiating schemes like Aahar under which meals at Rs.5 are being provided to people it has become imperative to ensure that the food being served is hygienic. One only hopes that the ministers do their job honestly and provide useful feedback to the government.

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