The Mid Day Meal Tragedy In Bihar Has Opened The Pandora’s Box: Here’s All You Need To Know!

Posted on August 1, 2013 in Specials

By Neha Mayuri:

Smelling a conspiracy behind the unfortunate incident in Bihar, The Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has alleged that the BJP and the RJD had a “secret understanding” to fetch a political gain from the tragedy and implemented this “Conspiracy Theory.” BJP has joined RJD’s Lalu Prasad Yadav and LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan in Nitish bashing. Such is politics showing its myriad shades!

Bihar

However, the unfortunate death of 23 innocent children not only raises a lot of questions but also leaves a lot of questions unanswered. With India known as the largest democracy worldwide, this incident brings nothing short of shame and humiliation. It reveals the careless attitude towards human life in a democracy. This is not the first case, there have been numerous cases in the past and every time an unfortunate incident like this occurs, the blame game starts all over again. There are serious talks and heated debates about the failure and the loopholes in the system. Officials who have the responsibility of the success of Mid Day Meal Scheme are carefully following this matter, talking about not sparing the guilty and not tolerating carelessness.

Amidst all these talks, the much sought after question arises, what is Mid Day Meal? Mid Day Meal Scheme is a multi-faceted programme of the Indian Government which seeks to address issues of food security, lack of nutrition and access to education. According to the Indian Government, Mid Day Meal is the world’s largest school feeding programme, as it reaches out to about twelve crore children in over 1,265,000 schools and Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) centers across India.

But, with such a big scheme in place and Indian government spending a huge amount on it, what went wrong and what led to the unfortunate death of innocent children? Everyone is seeking answers.

But, the series of facts that follow are sure to raise eyebrows and a big question about “responsibility” “care” and “effective administration”! According to the forensic investigation tests conducted by the Bihar Police, traces of a pesticide were found in the fatal school meal. The forensic tests found that a pesticide “Monocrotophos” was found in the cooking oil that was used to prepare the meals! Monocrotophos is a lethal pesticide that belongs to a family of chemicals called organophosphates which share a common mechanism of toxic action. This lethal pesticide is used to controls a range of pests from aphids to caterpillars, mites, moths, stem borers and locusts on various crops such as cotton, rice and sugarcane.

It was due to the presence of this pesticide that the children fell ill within minutes of eating a meal of rice and potato curry in their one-room school. Vomiting and convulsing with stomach cramps was existent, experts say that these symptoms are common in poisoning with such a toxic chemical. These chemicals are lethal nerve poisons. The WHO states that swallowing just 120 milligrams (the weight of approximately five grains of rice) of this lethal pesticide “monocrotophos” can be fatal to humans! Ironically, the lethal chemical “is still widely used and easily available” in India.

United Nations Health Organization clearly made a request to the Indian government in the start of the year 2009, to ban this poisonous pesticide as there are tremendous health risks of this lethal chemical. There are countries such as Australia, Cambodia, China, the European Union, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and the United States that have banned its use. Its import is illegal in at least 46 countries and countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka only allows Monocrotophos use for coconut cultivation only.

But the Indian government argues that if it’s properly managed, the advantages of this pesticide and several other lethal pesticides outweigh their disadvantages. Evidently, the government scientists are defending this pesticide and insisting that the decision not to ban it is pragmatic.

India is no stranger to the dangers of pesticides. A shocking report by the WHO cited a 2007 study which mentioned that about 76,000 people die each year in India from pesticide poisoning. The nation suffered the world’s worst industrial disaster when lethal gas leaked from a pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal in 1984, killing nearly 4,500 people. But, for India, providing more food to its people is a national priority. According to the World Bank, nearly 400 million people in the country live on less than $1.25 per day. Nearly half of its children under five are malnourished in the country.

Monocrotophos” is labelled hazardous by the World Health Organization and has fatal effects, despite of this fact, manufacturers in India have persuaded the government experts by stating the benefits of this lethal chemical. Generally, A 500 ml “Monocrotophos” bottle sold by a subsidiary of Godrej Industries is priced at Rs. 225, while an alternative, a bottle of 500 ml “Imidacloprid” costs Rs.1, 271.

History has it that India always appears reluctant to ban such pesticides. If we are to look at the facts, we’ll find that “Monocrotophos” isn’t the only toxic pesticide used in India. According to the WHO’s classifications, highly hazardous chemicals such as Phorate, Methyl Parathion, Bromadiolone and Phosphamidon, are registered for use as well.

Another lethal substance named “Endosulfan” is also being widely used nationwide. The media reports have stated that over 1,000 people were killed and hundreds were born deformed in the Kasargod district in Kerela because of indiscriminate aerial spraying of “Endosulfan.” The substance is so lethal that the United Nations wants it banned worldwide. Ironically, it was banned by The Supreme Court of India in the year 2011. Apparently, the decision came a few months after the chief minister of Kerala was on a day-long hunger fast to demand the ban of “Endosulfan”.

The government has issued 15 pages of regulations as well that need to be followed when handling pesticides — including wearing protective clothing and using a respirator when spraying. Pesticide containers should be broken when empty and not left outside in order to prevent them being re-used.

But in a nation where a quarter of the 1.2 billion population is illiterate, a country where vast numbers live in far-flung rural districts, implementation is almost impossible. For instance, “Monocrotophos” is banned for use on vegetable crops, but there is no way to ensure the rule is followed. Ironically, just few weeks before this unfortunate incident the government had advised farmers via a text message to make use of “monocrotophos” to kill pests.

However, the WHO officials firmly said the school tragedy reinforces the dangers of the pesticide. Now, one has to keenly observe and await Indian Governments’ stand on the use of this lethal chemical and its adverse effects on human lives.

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